Complex challenges for Baha'is in putting on an outdoor celebration for thousands
HAIFA, Israel — Gry Kvalheim worked behind the scenes on logistical arrangements for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and also the 1992 Baha'i World Congress, which brought some 30,000 Baha'is from around the world to New York.
She nevertheless counts the inauguration of a series of majestic garden terraces tomorrow on Mount Carmel as one of the most complex undertakings she's ever been involved with.
Among other things, the celebration this week entailed making travel and hotel arrangements for 3,000 Baha'is from more than 180 countries, the construction of a 4,000-seat temporary amphitheater, and the coordination of a musical program that brings together a symphony orchestra from Israel, a choir from Romania, and soloists from around the world. More than 60 buses have been hired just to shuttle participants around.
"This is one of the biggest events in Israel this year, and certainly one of the biggest in Haifa ever," said Ms. Kvalheim, who is Managing Director of the Inaugural Events Office, which has organized the celebration. "We've essentially had to book every hotel room in Haifa and in surrounding cities, from Nahariyya on the other side of Acre to Zichron Ya'acov in the south."
Ms. Kvalheim, who has been a Baha'i since 1959, also feels the assignment is the most significant she has ever undertaken.
"As a Baha'i, I don't think you can even fathom the importance of this event," she said, noting that the scriptures of the Baha'i Faith promise that such structures would one day grace the slope of Mount Carmel. "For us, it is prophecy fulfilled."
Built at a cost of some $250 million, the 19 garden terraces and two nearby administrative buildings are being offered up to the world this week as a demonstration of how diverse peoples can come together in peace and harmony.
The worldwide Baha'i community of some five million people from virtually every background and nation have sacrificed and labored in a spirit of love and unity over the last decade to fund and complete the project.
Today, in celebration of the project's completion, the 3,000 Baha'is gathered here visited the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith. Located in the city of Acre, across the bay from Haifa, the Shrine of Baha'u'llah is the most holy place in the world for Baha'is. The program featured prayers and devotional elements designed to spiritually prepare them for the week ahead.
On Tuesday, the terraces will be formally inaugurated with a world premiere concert of two orchestral works composed specifically for the occasion and the reading of a message from the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith. The concert and ceremonies will be available worldwide by satellite and webcast. Dozens of representatives of the international media have expressed a desire to attend and cover the event.
Making logistical arrangements for the concert and inaugural ceremonies, which will continue until Friday, has been a huge undertaking, made more complex because the concert will be held outside, at the base of Mount Carmel.
The Inaugural Events Office has arranged for the construction of a massive 4,000-seat temporary amphitheater around the plaza that forms the first terrace on the mountainside, at the top of Ben Gurion Avenue. This has necessitated closing the intersection of Ben Gurion Avenue and Hagefen Street, one of the city busiest locations, to automobile traffic for two weeks. The Inaugural Events Office has collaborated closely with the City of Haifa throughout the project.
"We consider the gardens a gift to us," said Moshe Tzur, managing director of the Haifa Tourist Board. "We hope it will become one of the main tourist attractions in the world. And the people of Haifa, they understand and are more than happy about it."
Jack Lenz, music director for the event, said the holding of such a concert outside, in a temporary amphitheater, entailed numerous special musical concerns.
"We're not doing this with the natural acoustics of a hall, and the challenge is how do you make it sound good outside," said Mr. Lenz, who is himself a well-known composer, artist and producer in Canada.
One potential problem is excess wind, which could create unwanted noise. To counter that, wind socks will be put on all microphones.
"You plan and do what you can do and then you leave the rest up to God," said Mr. Lenz. "I'm assuming the weather will be great and the wind will be low."
As well, said Mr. Lenz, concerts held outside often lack the fullness of sound that is heard in a concert hall, where the sound waves are reflected off the walls and ceiling. To compensate, they will put individual microphones on each instrument in the orchestra, instead of at just a few locations, and then add reverberation or other effects at the mixing console.
Like Ms. Kvalheim, Mr. Lenz feels that an extraordinary sense of history and importance surrounding the inauguration.
"This is a unique event in the Baha'i dispensation," said Mr. Lenz. "The terraces will be here for hundreds of years. The mountain itself has been celebrated in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition for thousands of years. In the Bible, for example, Isaiah talks about songs of "everlasting joy" on Mount Carmel.
"More than 75 percent of the program on Tuesday night is music," added Mr. Lenz. "So that fits in with the whole prophetic vision of the mountain."
In addition to the participation of more than 3,000 Baha'is from around the world, several hundred dignitaries are expected to attend the concert tomorrow. The list of confirmed attendees includes a number of government ministers, several Israeli Supreme Court justices, ambassadors and members of the Israeli Knesset.
"The project and its completion has provoked an unexpectedly enthusiastic response within Israel," said Albert Lincoln, secretary general of the Baha'i International Community.
Dr. Lincoln said during Passover, for example, the number of Israeli visitors to the gardens that immediately surround the Shrine of the Bab, which have long been open to the public, exceeded 12,000 visitors on one day. Previously, he said, visits to those gardens ran from 1,000 to 2,000 on Jewish holy days.
"Likewise, the response to the invitations sent out for the opening ceremonies has been far beyond anything anticipated by professional events organizers or any previous experience we've had," said Dr. Lincoln.
In anticipation of the thousands more who will want to visit the terraces, which will be opened to the public on 4 June, a special computerized reservation system has been set up and a new group of tour guides have been trained. Ultimately, it is expected that more than a million people a year will visit the terraces. The tours will be offered at no charge.