Local Woman Recounts Visit to Baha'i Shrine in Israel
Flore Kavelin of Paradise Hills was one of 3,500 selected individuals who converged in Israel in May to witness a week of ceremonies and view firsthand the Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel that soar above the city of Haifa.
At the heart of the Baha'i faith are the principles of unity, diversity and perseverance.
Millions of dollars and years of planning and building came to fruition with the opening of the terraces surrounding the Shrine of the Bab. The terraces complete the spiritual and administrative center of the faith.
Nineteen people from each of 200 countries or territories joined a legion of dignitaries just as diverse for the five days of ceremonies.
"Even the orchestras present represented Christians and Jews, Muslims and people from various countries," Kavelin said. "Every detail represented unity and diversity."
A goal of the Baha'i faith is to break down barriers of prejudice between peoples and promote the model of a global society that lives in peace.
The 18 terraces are divided evenly between the Shrine of the Bab and extend from the bottom to the top of Mount Carmel. They were designed as nine concentric circles appearing to emanate from the shrine.
The shrine houses the remains of the Bab, the prophet forerunner of Baha'u'llah, who became the author and prophet of the Baha'i faith.
In 1850 the Bab was executed by a firing squad. In 1909 the shrine was built as a final resting place for his remains, following the instructions of Baha'u'llah. The structure was expanded in 1953.
The terraces were planned by the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the faith, as a memorial to him.
At night each terrace is brightly illuminated, symbolizing the martyred prophet's last days.
"He was denied even a candle while imprisoned," Kavelin said.
"The terrace project began in 1991, but buying of the property around them began years earlier," Kavelin said. The project cost approximately $250 million, with funding coming from Baha'i communities worldwide. Even the upkeep of the gardens and terraces is a community project, with work being done by volunteers of the faith who commit to a minimum of one year of service.
"In our faith, work is worship, so this is a way to worship," Kavelin said.
Work on the landscape is a continual and painstaking process. According to Kavelin, four people are required just to mow along the slopes of the terraces. Three of them hold onto the fourth, who holds the mower.
Flowers, trees and shrubs from around the world were chosen for year-round beauty and to symbolize the themes of diversity. State-of- the-art irrigation systems run throughout the gardens.
"It is absolutely impeccable," Kavelin said. "Not a leaf is out of place."
The opening festivities included events for Baha'i only as well as for the general public. On the second day the Baha'i members climbed the terraces from the bottom to the top of the mountain.
"It was the most touching experience I had," Kavelin said. "People from across the world all walking together with respect and the same aim. I saw people on crutches and even a man with polio."
Kavelin initially decided not to take the walk due to her own health concerns but was inspired to join the group after seeing a 70-year-old in a wheelchair begin the trek.
"I was inspired. If he can do it, surely I can do it," Kavelin said.
The terraces and shrine will now serve as a place of pilgrimage.
Kavelin moved to Albuquerque in 1988 after living in Haifa 20 years with her late husband, who was a member of the Universal House of Justice.
She decided to be a Baha'i when she was 17 and has "never been sorry for a moment." She is a member of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'i's of Albuquerque.
Now back in town, things haven't slowed down for Kavelin.
"Everybody wants to know about the terraces," she said. "I'm showing slides and having people over."
The beauty, excitement and spiritual depth of her journey is something she does not hesitate to share.
"I have many, many beautiful stories I didn't even have time to tell you," she said at the end of an interview.
©Copyright 2001, Albuquerque Journal