Note: Drew and I recently returned from a trip to Israel where we met with several Israeli officials. This and the next several columns will be a series on what we learned and saw.

Haifa is built high above a beautiful natural port. Most people think of Israel as a desert, but to the north it is lush with flowers of deep reds, blues, greens and yellows; vibrant colored birds and green terrain as far as the eye can see.

Drew and I have been to the north; Tiberius, Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), Rosh Pina, all the way up to the Lebanese border; but, in all of our 30-plus trips to Israel, we never had time to explore Haifa. So, when we were invited to tour the largest Israeli Naval Base, which is in Haifa, and have a briefing on Israel’s new submarines and destroyers, we jumped at the chance.

With so much international focus on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Haifa is pretty much an unknown to most people.

We had the opportunity to be welcomed by the Mayor of Haifa, Yona Yahav, who gave us some very interesting facts. Haifa has 300,000 residents, with half of them being college graduates. Yes, half of the citizenry has a college degree!

Haifa is said to be the only city in the world where Jews, Christians and Muslims live and work in total harmony. Oh, and it is the World Center of the Baha’i faith. Yahav quipped that, since neither Moses, Jesus nor Mohamed ever came to Haifa; there is nothing for the religions to fight over. In fact, the first Mayor of Haifa was a Muslim and completely embraced the residents of all faiths.

It is the petrol/chemical capital of Israel, but great strives are being made to segue into more green energy.

Lebanon is only 15 miles away. In 2006, Hezbollah (based in Lebanon) fired more than 100 rockets at Haifa in less than three days. One of the major hospitals has a multi-storied, underground parking lot, which can be — and was — converted (in about an hour) into a 2,000 bed, fully-equipped hospital. All of the residents were “sheltered” for one month following that barrage. They don’t mess around with the safety of their people.

There is an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) Patriot Missile Unit based in Haifa and the naval base was incredibly interesting to see. There are a few things not generally known that I think you might find of interest.

We were briefed by the Commander of the Submarine Fleet and saw their new subs and destroyers. My first reaction was they are very small; miniatures compared to those in the American fleet. He explained that, while the U.S. fleet is built for long-term missions, going all over the world wherever there is trouble, in Israel, trouble comes to them.

Their fleet consists of patrol boats, destroyers and submarines. I can’t give you numbers or specifics, but I can tell you that, while their navy is small in comparison to other countries, its capabilities are mighty.

We were very impressed with Haifa. I think you would be, too.

Wendy J. Levenfeld is a published novelist, playwright and columnist. Send comments to wendylevenfeld@gmail.com. Visit Wendy’s website at www.wendylevenfeld.com.

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