Thursday, July 27, 2006

What life is like here

In contrast to many of the other articles that have been printed about life in Haifa in recent days, here is the translation of an article that was printed yesterday in one of the largest newspapers in Israel. It gives a very accurate sense of what it is like to be at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa right now:

At the Bahá’í Shrine, the routine is maintained

Even when the sirens don’t quit, the calm of the Bahá’í Shrine in Haifa is not effected. Even the lights are not turned off until midnight. “This is our way of uplifting the morale”, says a representative of the place, “perhaps the future is scary, but in the end the peace will come.”

Every evening, when the darkness falls, the lights of the Bahá’í Shrine are turned on and it is one of the most spectacular places in Israel. One might think that during the days of war, the Bahá’ís would dim the lights so that it wouldn’t turn the Shrine into a target for the Lebanese rockets, but the opposite is true. The illumination of the Shrine that looks over the Haifa bay and Lebanon are lit every day until midnight.

“This is our way to uplift the morale of the citizens of Haifa”, explained the Deputy Secretary of the Bahá’í organization, Murray Smith from New Zealand, “it is symbolic in our view, to keep the lights on in the darkness of war. I hope this message comes across.”

In normal times the Bahá’í Shrine and the terraces are one of the central tourist attractions in Israel. Every month it is visited by about 60 thousand visitors. From the beginning of the war the gardens have been closed. Even the 80 gardeners of the most beautiful well-kept gardens in the country don’t come to work. Now the heads of the community are worried about the health of the plants and beautiful flowers.

From the time the rockets have fallen on Haifa ...the 700 volunteers from 80 countries do their best to maintain their routines. “We have gone through hard times in the past, for example, the Gulf War” explained Smith yesterday, “and we have good bomb shelters, a strong communication system, and a sufficient supply of food and water. Most of the places at the Baha'i World Centre are very safe, because they are literally in the mountain.”

When the sirens are heard, a sound system announces to the workers to go to protected areas and stay there for 15 minutes. Yesterday, minutes after the alarm, a volunteer in the Library named Tazien continued to sit in the Library and work -- she explained, “I hope by the Will of God all will be ok.”

Maarten Scot from Holland, married and a father to a seven month old, who works in the Statistics Department, came as usual to work. “When the first rocket hit Haifa I was in shock, one wouldn’t expect this and it is even a little worrisome”, he explained, “if ones looks a lot at the media you get the feeling that the city is on fire, but from here, when I look at the city — it is the same city”.

The Bahá’ís believe in world harmony and peace. Even yesterday, in the heat of another day of war, the peace in this place is maintained even though the sirens don’t stop going off.

Under one of the most magnificent buildings at the Centre, are below ground bomb shelters that can easily accommodate all the workers. Long tunnels lead to bomb shelters that are clean and well kept...Even with how the bomb shelters look, only some of the workers come to them when the sirens go off.

“The Bahá’ís understand that the world is going through a tough time. There will be tough problems or wars, until people realize the message of peace”, added Smith, “so we need to stay here, to continue as usual and to promote the idea of peace. From our standpoint, this message is more important then everything else. We are not naïve and we know this involves a lot of work, but in the end the Peace will come. Perhaps the near future is hard and scary, but the distant future is bright, and that is what the lights of the Shrine symbolize.”


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