There’s something quintessentially Israeli about Hahaganah Boulevard in Lower Haifa in the area leading to Elijah’s Cave. The southern side of the street (as you come from the lower city’s Paris Square) is home to three monuments, all relics of modern-day Israeli history: an old illegal immigrant ship, called the “Af Al Pi Chen” ("in spite of it all”), that is part of the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum; a real decommissioned submarine; and the bridge of the submarine Dakar, which sank mysteriously in 1969 and was eventually retrieved.
Meanwhile, across the street, a huge sign points to “Elijah’s Cave” – a remnant of biblical lore – and directs you to Allenby Street and the long flight of stairs leading up to the cave whose dimensions are quite small despite the massive sign.
The sign's size conveys that “this place is important.” And indeed it is. Elijah’s Cave, now used as a synagogue, is sacred to all three monotheistic faiths – and its location is fitting as Jews, Christians and Muslims peacefully coexist in the city of Haifa.
The site was first mentioned in the 12th century by Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, who wrote that it was near the place where Elijah and the Prophets of Ba’al faced off (1 Kings 18). An anonymous Jewish visitor writing a letter from the Holy Land in 1626 described “Elijah’s large and magnificent cave” on Mount Carmel, where he said Elijah came to pray before challenging the false prophets and calling down fire from heaven. A student of Rabbi Nahman of Braslav said his teacher and followers would pray here, sing and dance, especially during Sukkot.
The right-hand wall of the cave is covered with ancient Greek inscriptions, and one in Hebrew, along with two seven-branched candelabra. Among the earliest inscriptions here is of a Roman soldier, who left his name – Germanos. Scholars believe he must have consulted the “oracle of Carmel” that lived in the cave – harking back to the days when idol worship was common among the forest-covered slopes of the mountain where Haifa now sits. The prophet of Passover, Elijah, for whom Jews around the world open their doors during the seder, is referred to by Muslims and Druze as el-Hader, the “green” (everlasting) one. Christian tradition reveres Elijah as the best possible example of monastic devotion, and even marks this very cave as one in which Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus hid from King Herod.
When you enter the cave you’re as likely to find a few people quietly praying as you are a noisy celebration of a circumcision or a halakeh, a 3-year-old Orthodox boy’s first haircut. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to join the festivities and share the refreshments. Above the cave’s Torah ark is a space in the ceiling where visitors insert prayer notes.
Opening hours: Sun.–Thurs. 8 A.M.–4 P.M. (summer until 6 P.M.); Friday 8 A.M.–noon (summer until 1 P.M.); Closed Saturday
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