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Friday, July 10, 2020

Haifa a many-faceted jewel

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Visiting Americans often compare Haifa with San Francisco for its hilly landscape and trendy, artsy neighborhoods, or Boston for its mix of academia and maritime culture. While this northern Israeli city is a weekend getaway for Jerusalemites and Tel Avivians, Haifa is also worth experiencing as a city of the future, with its expanding international influence as a high-tech center, or as a quaint port town with a rich, 3,000-year history.

Haifa is also a multicultural metropolis, frequently portrayed as a model of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. The third-largest city in Israel, it features six faiths and a variety of ethnic communities living together near the sea.

One of the city’s most popular destinations is the Baha’i Gardens. Located on the northern slope of Mount Carmel, the UNESCO World Heritage site features a staircase of 19 landscaped “hanging gardens” that connect Haifa with the city of Akko, which holds great significance for Baha’is as the final resting place of their prophet, the Báb. The Baha’i Gardens offer awe-inspiring, panoramic views of the city, the Galilean hills and the Mediterranean Sea. 

At the base of the Baha’i Gardens is the German Colony, the first of several colonies founded in the 19th century by the German Templars. Among its rustic stone houses is the boutique Colony Hotel (colonyhaifa.com) whose manager and staff will candidly steer guests to their personal favorite places to eat, drink and shop in this beautifully preserved area. The surrounding neighborhood, which benefited from a gentrification renaissance in the ’80s and ’90s, is now peppered with colorful bars, cafes and a mall featuring outlet stores with discounts on several popular Israeli clothing brands.

Fascinating stories line the streets of the German Colony. Among the landmarks that recount Haifa’s history is the home of eccentric 19th century author, mystic and diplomat Laurence Oliphant, whose secretary was poet Naftali Herz Imber, who penned “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. 

The Haifa City Museum (hcm.org.il), or Beit Ha-am (literally, the “People’s House”) is the German Colony’s keystone. Originally established as a public meeting space and school, several renovations have transformed the space into a museum with rotating exhibitions that focus on the city’s past and future.

The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art (tmja.org.il) at the crest of Mount Carmel is home to an impressive collection of more than 7,000 Japanese treasures donated by architect and art dealer Felix Tikotin. Tikotin’s dream was that his collection would serve as a means to broaden Israelis’ knowledge about Japan. A few steps away is the Haifa Museum of Art (hma.org.il), which houses a vivid permanent collection of contemporary painting, sculpture and prints by Israeli and foreign artists.

Other museums around Haifa include something for every visitor, from the Israeli National Maritime Museum (nmm.org.il) and MadaTech — The Israeli National Museum of Science (madatech.org.il) to the University of Haifa’s Hecht Museum (mushecht.haifa.ac.il), the Railway Museum (rail.co.il) and the Museum of Edible Oil Production, which traces the 2,000-year history of cooking oil in Israel. 

To engage in prime people-watching, stop by the “college town” neighborhoods surrounding Haifa University and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. The grounds around the universities constitute an international city within a city, attracting undergraduate and graduate students from around the world, some of whom work at Matam, Israel’s first high-tech park, home to R&D divisions for companies such as Google, IBM, Qualcomm, Microsoft and Yahoo!. One of the most striking spots to witness the city’s diversity is the Old City, which begins at a point where a historic Ottoman clock tower stands in the shadow of the modern landmark government Sail Tower in down-
town Haifa.

Foodies will appreciate lunch spots like the Allenby Restaurant or scout out pastries, falafel and fruits sold at the Arab Market in Wadi Nisnas, which skirts the city’s Arab and Christian quarters. Artfully situated murals, metal sculptures and mosaic tile walls by local artists of different faiths punctuate the area visually, while cardamom and cumin bring an aromatic sensibility to the place. 

Colony Hotel HaifaThe Colony Hotel.

Nature lovers may want to head to Dado Beach and Meridian Beach to view rare plants, or venture out on hiking trails along one of the local rivers (Lotem, Si’akh, Ezov and Akhuza). Mount Carmel National Park is Israel’s largest national park, featuring approximately 25,000 acres of pine, eucalyptus and cypress forest.

Planning a trip to Israel around Chanukah? Don’t miss an opportunity to see the city during one of its most vibrant times of year. Extending from Haifa’s Wadi Nisnas neighborhood to the German Colony, the annual Hag Ha Hagim, or Festival of Festivals, is staged every Saturday throughout December. The festival celebrates Judaism, Christianity and Islam through music and dance performances, artistic and cultural events, an arts and crafts fair, and, of course, lots of succulent local food.

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