NAZARETH, Israel — The Maronite Church in Nazareth’s Old City is chained and locked; most parishioners have joined the flight of residents out of the Old City in search of better housing in newer neighborhoods.
But a group of hardy young Nazarenes — and one Israeli Jew — believe in the potential of the city and refuse to abandon it. The group of young business-minded Nazarenes are taking over their family’s shops or renting abandoned properties and revamping them, offering new restaurants and cafes for tourists, simply because they love their city and want to make it better.
They want tourists to stay longer than the traditional one-hour dash through the city to see the Basilica of the Annunciation and across the city to the church where the Greek Orthodox say the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.
Three years ago, Maoz Inon, a 32-year-old Israeli Jew, rented and renovated an abandoned house, retained the name of the original owner and opened the Fauzi Azar Inn in the heart of the Old City for pilgrims and travelers who like to take the unbeaten path. Together with his friend David Landis, Inon has also mapped out a pilgrimage trail along the footsteps of Jesus in the Galilee — starting, of course, from Nazareth.
Nearby, Wissam Abu Saleem, 31, offers thick Arabic coffee in a shop his family has run for three generations. Just on the outskirts of the Old City, Amin Zayyad will soon open a restaurant he says will offer “Middle Eastern fusion” cuisine.
If traditional fare is what a visitor craves, there is a choice of traditional restaurants, including the landmark Diana, where the salads are endless and the meats legendary.
But lunch can also be a simple warm pita-pizza with melted cheese and a slightly sweet tomato sauce at a little hole-in-the-wall place near White Mosque Square in the middle of the open-air vegetable market.
Nazareth is not only about food and in addition to the charming outdoor market, Nazareth Village, located near the French Hospital, will transplant a visitor to Nazareth as it was in biblical times.
“Ahaallaan Waasaalan” (Welcome), says Abu Saleem. Old, new, traditional, fusion, Jew, Muslim, Christian, pilgrim, tourist, trekker — everything and everyone is welcome in Nazareth.