The cats of Muhraqa

Getting to Muhraka, the Carmelite monastery and shrine dedicated to the prophet Elijah, can be a significant experience of linguistic and cultural misunderstandings between different peoples.

Meanwhile, a question: how important is it to know the language of the place you visit?

My friends where I live in Haifa insist that you visit Mukhraqa absolutely.

“Mukhraqa?” I ask in dreary Arabic.

Muhraqa “he replies with a different accent that I try to repeat.

“That’s what I said. Mukhraqa.”

“You don’t say it well. Muhraqa.”

Okay I give up. Mukhraqa.

I have to take the 36 aleph at the intersection at 5.30.

“But don’t worry because I’m there every half hour.”

The next day I’m at the bus stop and enjoy the Israeli sunrise. A bus 36 passes by. I stop it and before getting on I ask “Mukhraqa?”

The driver nods, closes the door and drives off. This happens five more times until the Israeli dawn turns into the Israeli day. I’m starting to get nervous.

I check at the vane if the stop is right. Yes. 36 aleph.

Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and blah blah blah. Now I’m waiting for the 36, in fact, aleph.

Finally after yet another 36 aleph who does not let me up, it is now half past seven, a girl approaches and asks me, in English, where should I go.


“Muhraqa?” the girl asks. I make an affirmative sign.

“Muhraqa” she repeats.

I don’t quite understand the different sound of Mukhraqa but I nod my head yes. A new 36 aleph arrives. The girl makes a sign to stop, says something to the driver, the same one who had closed the door for me, at least it seems to me, and he signals me to get in.

The girl smiles.

Arrival in Mukhraqa or Muhraqa.

Why Mukhraqa? It is in this place that Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, won the challenge, and then had them slaughtered. The Carmelites have been the owners of this place for about a century and inside the church they have rebuilt the altar of twelve stones in memory of the one used at the time by the prophet Elijah. On the roof of the church, the splendid panorama over the Carmel valley.

Elijah approached all the people and said: «How long will you limp with both feet? If the Lord is God, follow him! If, on the other hand, Baal is, follow him! ». The people did not answer him anything. Elijah added to the people: “I am left alone, as a prophet of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty. nGive us two

bullocks; they choose one, quarter it and place it on the wood without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bullock and place it on the wood without setting fire to it. You will call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord. The divinity who will respond by granting fire is God! ». All the people replied: “The proposal is good!”

Elijah told the prophets of Baal: “Choose the bullock for yourselves and you go first because you are more numerous. Invoke the name of your God, but without setting fire to it ». They took the bullock, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, shouting, “Baal, answer us!” But there was not a breath or an answer. They kept jumping around the altar they had erected. As it was already noon, Elijah began to make fun of them saying: “Cry out louder, because he is a god! Perhaps he is lost in thought or busy or traveling; in case he ever is asleep, he will wake up. ‘ They shouted louder and made incisions, according to their custom, with swords and spears, until they were all bathed in blood. After midday, they were still acting possessed and the time had come when sacrifices are usually offered, but there was no voice, no response, no sign of attention.

Elijah said to all the people: “Come near!” Everyone approached. The altar of the Lord that had been demolished was restored.

Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of Jacob’s descendants, to whom the Lord had said, “Israel will be your name.” With the stones he erected an altar to the Lord; he dug around a small canal, capable of holding two sizes of seed.

He arranged the wood, quartered the bullock and placed it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four jugs with water and pour them over the burnt offering and the wood!” And they did. He said, “Do it again!” And they repeated the gesture. He said again: “For the third time!” They did it for the third time. Water flowed around the altar; the canal was also filled with water. At the moment of the offering the prophet Elijah approached and said: “Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, today it is known that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and that I have done all these things for you. command. Answer me, Lord, answer me and this people know that you are the Lord God and that you convert their hearts! ».

The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones and the ashes, draining the water of the canal. At this sight, all prostrated themselves to t erred and exclaimed: “The Lord is God!” The Lord is God! ».

Elijah said to them: “Take hold of the prophets of Baal; do not escape one! ». They grabbed them. Elijah brought them down into the Kishon stream, where he slaughtered them.

The twelve stones, the twelve tribes of Israel, which make up the altar. Israel has this mixture between ancient and today where, in every place, it seems to hear footsteps that are not yours and imagine encounters of people who have disappeared for centuries: Elijah, Elisha, Jesus …

The bus leaves me in Daliyat El Carmel and I walk through beech woods, about half an hour, to the Carmelite Sanctuary Convent. Mukhraqa. Long last.

I pay the five shekels of entry and move in the religious silence of an Arab garden: begonias, iris and carnations climbing up agricultural tools mixed with figurines of sheep and elves: under a tree a man is sleeping on a rubber mat. I am stunned to watch …

In the holy place of the altar of the twelve tribes of Israel, a bus driver sleeps: a sudden heat rises from my heart, the heat of Jesus against the merchants of the temple and I approach the man threateningly.

When I am touching him, abruptly, to wake him up, my gaze is distracted by two kittens that in a semi-hidden corner of the garden play with their mother who moves her tail alternately left and right with the kittens moving in synchrony.

Playfulness overcomes anger, the lightness of the little ones teaches more than anger. I smile.

I walk away and get off Mukhraqa sure it has been a good day.

Sergio Bortolotto,


This site uses technical cookies that are necessary for its functioning, third party cookies that permit aggregate statistical analyses, as well as third party profiling cookies to improve your experience while browsing the site and to develop personalized commercial communications. By clicking on “I Accept” or continuing to use the site in any way You are giving Your consent to the use of these cookies. For further information, also concerning the deactivation of cookies, please refer to the Cookie Policy.

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.