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Church Bells and Calls to Prayer and Other Miracles in Nazareth

Posted on the 14 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
The lobby of the 200-year-old Arab mansion that is now the Fauzi Azar Inn, welcoming Jews, Christians, Muslims and everyone else who wants to visit Nazareth (and even those who don't) The lobby of the 200-year-old Arab mansion that is now the Fauzi Azar Inn, welcoming Jews, Christians, Muslims and everyone else who wants to visit Nazareth (and even those who don’t). Photo credit: Gabrielle Jackson

I’m in Nazareth, where the muezzin’s call to prayer is echoed by church bells. It’s in the Jewish state of Israel in the largest Arab town in the country. It was once Christian but is now predominately Muslim.

It is, as the Bible tells it, from where Jesus hailed and the site of the annunciation – where the Angel Gabriel allegedly appeared to Mary to tell her she was to give birth to the Son of God. The mosque right next to the Church of the Annunciation has a sign condemning Jews and Christians as infidels. In English. And yet, everybody here speaks Hebrew and most speak English as well, and there is ample evidence of good relations everywhere you look.
The Fauzi Azar Inn, the lovely little guest house where I stayed, is a business partnership between a Jewish Israeli man and an Arab Israeli family.

At Diana, the restaurant headed by famous Arab Israeli kebab chef, Chef Duhul, Jewish Israeli and Arab Israeli families sharing the dining room floor. By the White Mosque – where people of all faiths are invited to view prayers – a local peace project is about to be launched. Initiated and funded locally, the school will educate students of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths and will be staffed by teachers of all three faiths as well. Another local peace project is the Mary Centre, where locals teach about the importance of Mary in all three Abrahamic faiths.

These are ambitious projects for the Old City, which locals say was a no-go area just 10 years ago. When Maoz Inon told Suraida Shomar-Nasser that he was looking for a building in the Old City that he could open as a guest house she thought he was insane.

‘I wouldn’t even go in there alone, and I’m a local,’ she tells guests of the Fauzi Azar Inn during her daily lecture about the history of the building. The Inn itself is a 200-year-old mansion, which belonged to Shomar-Nasser’s grandfather before he died during a house fire there in the 1980s. The house had remained shuttered since – as had much of the Old City for many – until her chance meeting with Maoz, who later managed to convince her mother and aunts that going into business together would be great for them and great for Nazareth. The Fauzi Azar Inn opened in 2005 as the first guest house in Nazareth. There wasn’t a single hostel or guest house in the area before then. Now, the area is flourishing, with new restaurants opening up monthly and tour groups parading the bazaar.

I spent my days in Nazareth eating delicious kebab at Diana, snacking on fresh cake made twice daily for guests of Fauzi Azar and exploring local cuisine in myriad upscale and dirt cheap restaurants. Yes, I spent my time eating, of course, but I also made it to the Sea of Galilee, where, among other things, Jesus is said to have walked on water and turned a few fish into a feast for thousands.

Nazareth is definitely worth the trip, even if only to stay at the Fauzi Azar Inn and experience its magic. The staff and volunteers are helpful and kind and the old mansion has an enchanting atmosphere that seems to will you to dream good dreams. The free tour of the Old City that the Fauzi runs is open to all tourists, including people not staying there. It’s a Nazareth must-do.

What’s more, I got a free night because of my daredevil tactics of visiting Iran and Lebanon. Any guest who can show stamps from Iraq, Iran, Syria or Lebanon in their passports gets a free night’s stay. It worked, because my one-night stay extended to a three-night stay in a place I wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

A version of this post first appeared at KebabQuest.

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