By Sue Glover
Its the last day of Sukkot (which has been running for a week) and its a public holiday so everyone is lying low. After this I’m told the full-on pilgrim season begins and this will mean dozens of buses arriving daily at Kibbutz Ginosar and at the Capernaum National Park where I’m working. Pilgrims come to the kibbutz to view the ancient boat said to be from Jesus’ time 2000 years ago. The boat came to light some years ago after the level of the Kinneret (the local name for the Sea of Galilee) dropped to a very low level and it was found to be basically intact, preserved by the mud. Some time later a local woman dreamt of ‘Jesus’ boats sailing on the lake and so her husband built one modelled on the boat that was found. Today it is a familiar sight to see these boats transporting pilgrims from Tiberias or Kibbutz Ginosar to Capernaum.
I’ve been here in Israel for two and a half weeks and love it all. The very hot days are compensated by lovely cool mornings (best to get up at 6) and balmy evenings when people come to call. I’m living in one of the old kibbutz houses which is a long building usually divided into two, to accommodate two families. Today so much has changed since a decision was reached in the year 2000 that families could own their own houses. This fundamentally altered the way the kibbutz operates which used to be all about communal living and ownership. I’m told the reason for the change is that the young people wanted it and the oldies are very keen to have their children stay on here. Everyone was allocated a quarter acre and so now there are smart new houses replacing the long houses. When older members die the family inherits the house and passes it on to the children.
I’m lucky to be here really. Years ago I found it impossible to be accepted to stay on Kibbutz Ginosar, mainly because it is one of the most successful in Israel and many want to live here. Yossi my landlord recently converted a family house into a couple of rental units, all possible because of private ownership. So here I am enjoying being in this semi rural setting. There are 250 cows in a covered shed (unbelievably hot for them and they never see a blade of grass) but Yossi is one of the carers and he works so hard to look after them, up at 3am every day of the year he tells me. Then there are the banana plantations, a familiar sight to pilgrims as they travel through this fertile plain of Gennesaret (mentioned in the Bible). There are about 40 Thai workers living on the kibbutz who I see being transported out to work. Really in the extreme heat here it takes exceptional people to be able to stay out all day.
My volunteer work at the Capernaum National Park is gradually evolving. So far it has involved cleaning and reopening the information area which has been shut for more than a year. The staff had taken to dumping all their equipment, old boots, coffee cups, etc on the plate glass counter and it was a big mess. Also my boss Shiran wants me to write a brochure for Capernaum National Park that will include the holy sites at Capernaum and Tabgha where the loaves and fishes miracle took place. So I’m in the process of chatting to the various priests at the churches involved, and although they are Indonesian, Italian, Greek, Polish and German, they mostly speak English thank goodness.
People here are curious as to what brings me to Galilee and so I’ve had to give it some thought. I feel it is an enormous privilege to be in the same places where Jesus lived and worked. To be able to look at the same mountains – Arbel and the Golan – and trudge through the same fields in the burning heat of day. To know what its like to need to have your feet washed, to be given a drink of water, to live amongst Jews who have a wonderful earthiness about them on the kibbutz. And of course to be able to swim in the lake to cool off. In many ways this is a paradise where everything grows in profusion and life is tough but authentic. There is no pretence here. That’s what I like.