by Yael Adar
If you're interested in a guided tour of Haifa, a discussion with religious leaders of three faiths, or want to see 100 works of art in one of Haifa's oldest neighborhoods, Beit-Hagefen is the place to visit.
Beit-Hagefen (House of the Vine), is an Arab Jewish Center that was established in 1963 by then mayor Abba Khoushi. It is probably the place that best epitomizes the coexistence between Jews and Arabs in this northern port city.
The Center offers a number of guided tours (primarily for groups) all centered on the coexistence theme. There are at least six routes to choose from, each focusing on specific areas of Haifa. Tours range from 2-6 hours and cover Wadi Nisnas, The German Colony, the Bahai Garden, Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery (see photo, Pilgrim's Crossing), The House of Grace, Elijah's Cave and more.
Beit-Hagefen, offers a variety of community activities. It has an art gallery, an Arab language theater. Its two festivals include the Holiday of Holidays in December and the Arab Theater month in May and June. This unique community center holds meetings between Jewish and Arab students, workshops for community communication, and works toward democracy and coexistence.
Wadi Nisnas, (nisnas means marten in Arabic) is an Arabic neighborhood of about 8,000 people. It is here, that Beit-Hagefen holds its annual Holiday of Holidays (during Hanukah, Ramadan and Christmas). Virtually the whole neighborhood becomes an outdoor gallery, featuring 100 works of art, by Arab and Jewish artists, from across the country. Each year - the festival has a theme - this year's theme (in honor of the millennium) is Top 2000. And this year the installations will be viewable through June 2000. A guided tour lasts roughly and hour and half and is highly recommended. While it is possible to walk the route on your own - there's no comparing a self guided walk or a guided one of the Wadi.
Dr. M. Peri, the Director General of the Center summed up the idea behind Beit-Hagefen by quoting the American philosopher-educator John Dewey, who said, "Every person has an equal right to be different."
While the Center's activities were, for many years local, since the Oslo peace agreement, its activities have taken a decidedly international turn and it accounts for the majority of cultural ties with Jordan, according to Peri. It is also involved in cultural ties with Morocco and the Palestinian Authority.
The Center can arrange programs that include special discussions with representatives of the three major faiths. A recent program included a discussion with a Rabbi, a Bishop and a Qadi (an Islamic religious judge). Programs with Israeli authors may also be arranged.
Group tours are available in English, French, Hebrew and Arabic (it may also be possible to arrange for tours in other languages). All group tours must be reserved in advance. The Wadi Nisnas tours are also available on Saturday at 12 PM in Hebrew, for individuals. There's no need to sign up, meet at Beit-Hagafen, purchase a ticket and depart as a group with your guide. Saturday tours of Wadi Nisnas for individuals, in English, may be available based on demand, (call ahead to find out if these are still being conducted).
Inquiries regarding meetings with religious leaders, authors etc. should be directed to the Center, separately.
Beit-Hagefen is located at 2 Hagefen Street, Haifa, 35662
TEL 04/852-5252, 04/852-5251 FAX 04/852-9166