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Local families caught in war recall hardship

As the attacks continued, families evacuated throughout northern Israel, some to shelters and tent cities. By the time that Renee Jaenicke of Camarillo arrived in Haifa on July 16, about half of the city's 250,000 people were gone. Sirens blared several times a day, followed by Hezbollah rockets. Shops were closed. Windows were shuttered.

"On Saturday, a trouble-maker came into our hotel," Jaenicke wrote in an e-mail. "Apparently, someone recognized him and asked him to leave. He started yelling and shouting and pushing people around. He picked up an American flag and started thrusting it out as if it were a spear. I was about 6 feet away from this scene."

Jaenicke was one of about 170 members of the Baha'i faith who made a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Haifa, a city considered their spiritual home. They prayed, asked for guidance and strolled in the Baha'i Gardens.

{josquote}"We believe we are protected here due to our prayers and the purpose of our visit."{/josquote}

"We feel that we are in the eye of the storm," wrote Jaenicke, who finished her journey and returned to California on Friday. "We believe we are protected here due to our prayers and the purpose of our visit."

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Faith leads family into war zone

The Torrijos-Christensen family Thursday in their Modesto home, from left, Akira Torrijos, 16, Joseph Christensen, 14, Gavril Torrijos, 13, Gary Torrijos and Cynthia Torrijos. Despite the Israel-Lebanon conflict, the family recently made a pilgrimage to Haifa, Israel, the spiritual center of their Bahai faith.
MARTY BICEK/THE BEE

Fighting doesn't keep Modestans from making a pilgrimage to a shrine in Israel

Three days after two Israel soldiers were captured by Hezbollah militants, faith led the Torrijos-Christensen family of Modesto to northern Israel.

For six years the family planned its pilgrimage to Haifa, the spiritual center of their Bahai religion; after a family discussion, they decided to travel into a war zone.

"It was a complete act of faith," Gary Torrijos said Thursday as he sat on the couch next to his wife, Cynthia Christensen, and children Akira Torrijos, 16, Joseph Christensen, 14, and Gavril Torrijos, 13. "Logically, there were moments when I thought, as Dad, 'I made the decision to bring my family into this?'"

After a week of visiting shrines and dodging bombs, the family landed safely in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon.

{josquote}The Israelis were very patriotic, they said, and all the cab drivers loved the United States{/josquote}

The Bahai faith believes the teachings of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are combined into a unified religious narrative. As Muslims may make a pilgrimage to Mecca or Catholics visit the Vatican, Bahais have the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Acre, less than 13 miles from the Israel-Lebanon border and the final resting place of their spiritual founder.

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Twenty New Zealanders in Haifa

Murray Smith - BWNS photo

...20 New Zealanders based in the Israeli city of Haifa face the daily wail of sirens as Hizbollah rockets rain down around them.

Former Labour MP Murray Smith, now deputy secretary-general of the Baha'i faith's world centre, told The Dominion Post that locals faced a daily scramble for safety.

"We could hear the bangs," he said during an interview disrupted by more sirens yesterday.

"We've had showers that have come quite close."

Mr Smith, 65, and his wife, Miette, have been in Israel since 1994. He was a Labour MP from 1972 till 1975 and became a Baha'i in 1989.

He said sirens had been going off at least five times a day.

About 700 people from 80 countries worked as volunteers at the centre, including about 20 Kiwis, Mr Smith said.

Many had stayed on and continued their work and he and his wife had no plans to leave Israel.

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Christine & Brian's Blog: 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.”

{josquote}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.{/josquote}

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.”

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Haifa - Living on the edge

Residents of Haifa in northern Israel enjoyed a pleasant lifestyle. Then came Hizbollah’s rockets.

When a friend of mine emailed me about the rockets landing near him in Haifa, I felt a shudder of anxiety for the city where I lived until recently. Just the other day my friend was driving down a street not far from our former apartment, when he heard a siren that was warning of a rocket attack.

“I stopped the car and went into a stairwell of a nearby apartment building, which is the standard instruction for when an attack occurs if we are outside,” he wrote. “The blasts were closer than anything we have experienced so far. I actually felt a slight effect of the percussion wave of one of the hits for the first time.”

The rocket had landed just a kilometre or so from where we lived. Had the trajectory been a little higher, there was a chance it could have hit the area where we lived — and, who knows, our apartment. That email reinforced the fact that this time war was much more real — ordinary people are dying — than when we lived there.

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