|Roger Reini's Bahá'í Pilgrimage Journal|
Prelude to Departure
Departure for the Holy Land
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This is the story of a pilgrimage that was not meant to be, for one reason or another. How would things have been different had I gone in 2001? I'll never know.
October 7, 2000
In March 2001, I will be going to Israel on pilgrimage to the Bahá’í World Center and the sacred Shrines. I received the official invitation this past Monday, and I mailed my official acceptance yesterday. This is a VERY BIG deal for me. I’ve been a Bahá’í for 6 1/2 years, since March 1994. Pilgrimage is an obligation for every Bahá’í who is able to make it. I applied for pilgrimage in August 1995, and it took five years for my name to arrive at the top of the waiting list.
At the end of August this year, I received a request from the Office of Pilgrimage at the World Center to provide some information about myself and to rank several potential dates for pilgrimage. The dates ranged from November 2001 to May 2002. I ranked them with an eye to being in the Holy Land for the observance of one or more Holy Days. I also said that I would accept an earlier date given five months’ notice. Imagine my surprise and delight when I received the invitation to go on pilgrimage starting on March 19. This was only six months away, as opposed to being over a year away. And what’s more, I would be present in the Holy Land for not one, not two, but three Holy Days. Naw-Rúz, the Bahá’í New Year, will be on March 21, as always. But this year -- March 27 and 28, to be precise -- the Twin Holy Days will fall in March. The Twin Holy Days celebrate the births of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. They were born on consecutive days, according to the Muslim calendar. In the west, these days are celebrated according to when they occurred according to the Gregorian calendar -- October 20 and November 12, respectively. But in the Holy Land, they are celebrated according to the lunar calendar, meaning they move relative to the Gregorian calendar. This year, they’ll fall on March 27 and 28.
I started this journal on computer two days ago, but once I saw this journal book, I decided to start over. This might be a more durable record, anyway.
With my pilgrimage dates confirmed, I can now begin to consider making travel arrangements. I need to arrange a flight to and from Tel Aviv, and I need to arrange for hotels in Haifa and maybe the Tel Aviv airport on my departure date. There are no direct flights from Detroit to Tel Aviv. Travelocity.com has suggested several possibilities for connections -- Newark, Toronto, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Rome. However, I’ve found that the best fare appears to be from British Airways via Heathrow Airport. The fare is $300-400 lower than the other alternatives. Perhaps that’s a sign that I should go to London. The Guardian’s grave is there. I have visited it three times on two separate trips, and I also like visiting London. I’ve been twice; looks like I’ll take some time at the end of my trip and make it three times.
October 8, 2000
I’ve asked the Office of Pilgrimage to answer some questions. Can I bring a video camera, for one. Another asked if I could arrive in Haifa the day before and get settled into my hotel. Since the pilgrimage program beings at noon the first day (registration from 9 to noon), it would make sense to do so. But we are allowed to be in Haifa only for the duration of the pilgrimage. Then while showering this morning, I realized that by arriving after sunset, I’m actually arriving on the first Bahá’í day of the pilgrimage. And if I were to get there an hour before sunset, that shouldn’t be too bad. The flight I’m considering would arrive at 3:25 pm anyway. So I believe I can arrive in Haifa the day I land. [Note (Dec. 16, 2007): based on what I know now, I should not have targeted to arrive in Haifa before sunset. Current rules now specify not before 9 pm on the day before]
October 9, 2000
Today, I’ve been looking at hotel rooms in London for the stopover on the way back. perhaps I should pin this down soon so that my attention can return to more spiritual matters. The news from Israel is very depressing -- are they on the verge of all-out war? [Note (Dec. 16, 2007): this refers to the early days of the Second Intifada]
October 12, 2000
Against a backdrop of more violence and bloodshed in the Middle East, I went ahead and purchased my plane ticket to Israel. I sincerely hope and pray that the situation will have calmed down by the time I begin my journey. I will leave Detroit on Saturday March 17 on British Airways flight 202 at 6:15 PM. I arrive at London Heathrow on Sunday morning at 6:45 AM. After a nearly two hour layover, I leave at 8:40 AM on BA flight 165, arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport at 3:25 pm.
On Thursday, March 29, I leave Israel on BA flight 162 at 7:05 am, arriving at Heathrow 11:30 in the morning. After 5 days in London, I take BA flight 203 back to Detroit, leaving at 12:35 pm and arriving at 3:50 pm. I have yet to make any hotel arrangements.
October 18, 2000
I’ve made my reservation for London. I will be staying at the Quality Hotel Paddington from March 29 to April 3. The cost is ₤666 for the entire stay, ₤133.20 a night. The hotel is at 8-14 Talbot Square, Paddington, London W2, not far from Paddington Station, and close to the Paddington & Lancaster Gate Tube stations. Considered staying at a Quality Inn near Victoria Station. Could have taken the Tube there -- could do it for the Paddington one, too. The Paddington hotel seemed nicer.
October 19, 2000
On the eve of the Birth of the Báb, I put in a request with Palex Tours in Haifa. My first choice for hotel was the Dan Panorama, second was the Nof. Now I must wait for the travel agency to act.
My co-workers are questioning the wisdom of going on pilgrimage now, no doubt born out of the continuing conflicts. I’ve pointed out to them that I won’t be going anywhere near Jerusalem or the West Bank. Still, one never knows what will happen.
I wonder how long this journal will last after I’ve passed on? I envision donating this to an archive, probably the US National Archives (Bahá’í, that is, not the government’s). Will someone hundreds of years from now be reading this, marveling at a time which saw the establishment of the Lesser Peace -- which still had Hands of the Cause of God who were still living -- when one could still enter the Shrines of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb. Will those future readers gain inspiration from my experiences, as I have been inspired by the stories of the earliest believers? I cannot say. All I can do is to report what I see, hear, feel, etc. If others can draw inspiration from it, good. If not, so be it.
October 26, 2000
I received word from Palex Tours that I’ll be staying at the Dan Panorama. The rate isn’t known yet, but this year’s was $105 a night for a single room.
November 30, 2000
Not much happening -- I recently sent a scan of the signed invoice to Palex Tours, for my snail-mail attempt failed -- Return to Sender. Once the rates for next year are determined, I’ll be charged the deposit of one night’s stay. There haven’t been any further developments -- the tensions in Israel are still high but seem to have lessened. I recently heard that Bethlehem decided to cancel its Christmas ceremonies this year due to the tensions. As far as my spiritual preparation goes, I am reading Balyuzi’s biography of Bahá’u’lláh -- actually re-reading it, as I first read it a few years ago. Will I be ready for the pilgrimage? Will I be sufficiently detached from the world?
February 13, 2001
My accommodations are set. Upon my arrival, I will not proceed directly to Haifa but will stay at the Basel Hotel in Tel Aviv. The next morning, I will head up to Haifa, drop off my bags at the Dan Panorama, then check in at the pilgrim center. The rate at the Basel is $100 a night, while it’s $111 at the Dan Panorama.
I modified my plans in order to comply with the wishes of the Universal House of Justice, which directs pilgrims not to arrive in Haifa until the first morning of the pilgrimage.
One unfortunate aspect of my trip: I will miss timely news about my niece Candice and how she did in the Virginia state spelling bee at Richmond. The bee is April 1. I’ll be in London then. I can certainly offer prayers for her success at the holy shrines.
It looks like the trip is coming together -- now I hope I don’t get sick or worse.
The political situation isn’t much better -- Israel has a new prime minister, Ariel Sharon. People are still being killed. Still, the Counsellors and board members went over last month for the dedication of the new International Teaching Center. If they can go, so can I. I just don’t want to get sick.
February 17, 2001
I was at the Detroit Bahá’í Center last night, and everyone I spoke to was quite pleased to hear I would soon be leaving on pilgrimage. A month from today, I will be on my way. At the time I am writing this (8:39 PM), I should be 2 hours into my flight to London.
One of the Detroit area believers, Morris Richardson of Southfield, was telling me about the Bahá’í hajj, the pilgrimage rites that Nabil carried out at the Houses of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. But it’s not possible to perform those rites right now; the House of the Báb has been destroyed, and the House of Bahá’u’lláh is in Baghdad -- not a very friendly place for Bahá’ís or for Americans right now. Indeed, yesterday US and British jets bombed some facilities south of Baghdad. For now, all we can do is to visit Their Shrines, if not Their Houses. And we certainly will visit the places where Bahá’u’lláh lived while in the Holy Land.
Before I leave, I will be requesting, or I should say accepting, requests for prayers to be offered at the Shrines.
March 4, 2001
I am writing this at 8:11 am EST. This time in 2 weeks, it will be 3:11 pm in Israel, meaning I’ll be close to landing and starting my pilgrimage. Actually, the pilgrimage would not begin until the next morning. Heard about two bombings this morning, one in Netanya (between Tel Aviv and Haifa) and one in London near the BBC TV center.
It’s the time for hajj in the Muslim world, where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pilgrims have converged on Mecca and Medina. My pilgrimage will be nothing like that in terms of crowds. Still, at some point, it is envisioned that the numbers of Bahá’ís on pilgrimage will swell to such an extent that they will be unable to visit the interiors of the Holy Shrines.
March 6, 2001
It looks like my fast has ended due to illness -- I think I’ve caught a cold. My throat is sore, and my nose will soon be stuffy. Fortunately, my flight is 11 days away, so I’ll be well on the way to recovery by then.
Today, I received an e-mail from the Pilgrimage Office. It said that the Universal House of Justice was not cancelling pilgrimages due to the unstable political situation, but the final decision to go was up to me. I was advised to check my government’s travel advisories. The State Department does have an active travel warning for Israel. Government employees at our embassy and consulate are now allowed to take public buses. Pilgrims are advised to confine their movements to Haifa or Tel Aviv. And now I just read about a strike by ground workers at Ben-Gurion Airport. I think I’ll take all this to mean that I should postpone. I did speak with a Bahá’í at work, and he would not cancel his plans if he were in my situation. However, I’ve been agonizing and praying for guidance, and my heart is telling me not to go. I can postpone and remain at the top of the waiting list.
Well, I’ve decided. My closest family members have all advised me not to go. And that confirmed the feelings in my heart. I’ve just sent an e-mail to Haifa canceling my pilgrimage and requested to be returned to the top of the waiting list. I’ve also sent an e-mail to Palex tours requesting that my hotel reservations be canceled. I’ve just canceled my reservations for London, too.
March 7, 2001
My hotel deposit has been refunded with no penalty. Now to cancel or change my plane ticket. The Jerusalem Post is reporting that police are on high alert in Haifa after receiving specific reports about planned terror attacks in the city.
March 10, 2001
I fear that my plane ticket may be worthless, unable to be changed or exchanged. Still, I should probably sent it in and see what I can get.
Now that I’m not going on pilgrimage, I’ve decided to take a weeklong visit down home in Texas. I leave two weeks from today. I’m actually looking more forward to that trip than I was for pilgrimage. Well, I don’t anticipate any sort of trouble down home. But what does that say about my faith in God? I know some individuals who are going over soon, and they are not deterred by the political situation.
May 26, 2001
As I write this, I am watching and listening to the archived webcast of the second day of the opening ceremonies of the Terraces. My pilgrimage has been rescheduled to December 9, 2002.
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DISCLAIMER: this is not an official page of any Bahá'í Institution. All comments are my own and derive from my personal understanding of the Bahá'í Teachings. For official information about the Bahá'í Faith, you may wish to visit www.bahai.org or www.bahai.us.
Contents ©2008 Roger W. Reini
by Roger Reini