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The Sea of Galilee

January 27, 2021

The Sea of Galilee or Lake Kinneret is the largest body of fresh water in Israel. Lying below sea level on the Great Syrian-African Rift, it is surrounded by hills and mountains and fed mainly by the Jordan River, supplemented by underground streams. It is Israel’s principle source of fresh water, along with the ground aquafers, and has only been replaced in recent years by desalination plants, that create drinking water from the sea.

There have been archeological findings dating back to prehistoric times, and through the ages, including modern times, large and small settlements have been established around the lake, which has always been a source of sustainability.

Its major historical significance relates Christianity, being the principle site of Jesus’s ministry and where some of his famous miracles (walking on water, multiplication of fishes and bread) occurred. As such it has become a prime destination for pilgrims who wish to visit the many holy sites surrounding the lake, such as Capernaum, Tabgha, Mount of Beatitudes, and more. It is customary to take a boat ride on its waters and feast on its plentiful fish. Some of Jesus disciples were in fact fishermen who made their living from the lake, and historical evidence of this can be found today at the newly excavated archeological site of Magdala, as well as at the Kibbutz Ginosar Museum on its northern shore, where a 2000 year old fishing boat discovered in the lake has been preserved and is on exhibition.

During the Roman era, the Jewish population of Jerusalem was banished from the city and many moved to the Sea of Galilee region, with the city of Tiberias becoming a seat of Jewish learning. It is still considered one of the four holy cities to Judaism in Israel. In the 17th century, Tiberias was completely destroyed and it remained uninhabited for almost a hundred years before being rebuilt in the mid-18th century.

With the beginning of the Zionist movement, returning Jews began to establish agricultural settlements around the Sea of Galilee, which was also the site of the first ever kibbutz – Degania, followed by many others that remain a major portion of modern day Galilee settlements. In addition to agriculture, many of these settlements serve the ever growing tourism movement, providing guest houses and other attractions for visitors.

The Sea of Galilee is also known as the “Mood Gage” of Israel – with the level of its waters indicating whether there will be elation – when the lake fills, or despair – when its level drops. In 2018 the lake level dropped so low, following several years of drought, that there was concern it would reach a point of disaster. Luckily since then, with the rains of 2019 and 2020, the lake has refilled almost to its highest point. Unfortunately the Corona crisis has prevented Israelis from celebrating by visiting its’ shores in hoards, which they would have done in normal times. Hopefully we will be able to do so soon again.



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