See you in the Galilee!

The Galilean Resort and Campus is being designed as a Christian retreat center for evangelical Christians to celebrate their faith and connect with the times and teachings of Jesus.

Christian Galilee (photo credit: Courtesy: Israel Images)
Christian Galilee
(photo credit: Courtesy: Israel Images)
“Then Jesus said... ‘Tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:10).
Standing in the Migdal Valley, along the northwest shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, it is easy to forget that you are nearly 700 feet below sea level.
Encircled by lush foliage and towering, graceful palm trees, shimmering waters to the east, it is easy to forget a lot of things in this serene setting. But what does come to mind, drowning out all else, is that Jesus once walked these meadows and beaches. And the place still feels permeated by his peaceful presence two millennia later.
The Migdal Valley, home to Mary Magdalene and other New Testament figures, witnessed many of the signs and miracles performed by Jesus, while his riveting sermons echoed across the surrounding hillsides. For those wanting to walk in his footsteps, this tranquil valley was the crossroads for his itinerant ministry. From here, he fanned out to feed multitudes, deliver timeless parables, still raging storms, and challenge his disciples to become “fishers of men.”
Matthew 4:23 tells us that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”
Recently, archeologists have unearthed an ancient synagogue that served the Migdal community and are certain Jesus preached there. Three hundred meters up the shoreline, the famed “Jesus Boat” was discovered buried in mud in 1986.
On that very same tract of land where this historic fishing vessel was found, plans are now afoot for a unique Christian retreat center where visitors from around the world can come spend “quiet time” with the man from Galilee.
The Galilean Resort and Campus is being designed to serve as the foremost center for evangelical Christians to celebrate their faith on the Sea of Galilee and engage in educational programs and devotional activities which connect them with the times and teachings of Jesus.
“My primary motivation is spiritual enrichment,” Anne Ayalon, who birthed the vision for the center, recently told The Christian Edition. “Building relations of understanding and respect between Jews and Christians, knowing that we worship the same God and that His covenants are everlasting.”
Ayalon’s plan calls for The Galilean resort to be located on 15 acres of lakeside property that still seems untouched so many centuries after Jesus traversed the land. One can almost see his disciples gleaning corn on the Sabbath in the fields planted there today.
According to Ayalon’s blueprint, it will have “the atmosphere of a first century village, charming and authentic.” The center will be divided into two main areas: a first-class hotel and resort for overnight guests and a non-profit “campus” with facilities for hosting and broadcasting concerts and worship services, as well as a library and learning center specializing in the Hebraic roots of Christianity.
The “business side” of the resort will be centered around a five-star hotel with 250 rooms, including luxury suites but also economical rooms for tour groups. It will also feature a conference center, along with a spa, swimming pools, tennis courts and other amenities.
Meanwhile, the “spiritual” campus will contain a 500-seat auditorium for cultural programs and other public events, a chapel designed after the first century Migdal synagogue where weddings and communion services will take place, an outdoor amphitheater seating 1,500 for outdoor concerts, worship services, and national Bible quizzes, television studios and broadcast facilities, restaurants, boutique shops, and a library and classrooms.
The library will contain the personal book collection of the late Orthodox scholar David Flusser, a renowned Jewish expert on early Christianity and great admirer of the rabbi Jesus.
Meantime, Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv and Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma are currently developing courses for a joint Jewish- Christian study center at the Galilean campus. The project is being coordinated with new ORU president Dr. Mark Rutland and Hebraic roots scholar Dr. Brad Young, along with Orthodox Jewish figures Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and David Nekrutman.
All the buildings within the retreat center will have low profiles and are to be faced with Jerusalem stone and the local trademark black volcanic rock.
And everything will be located in landscaped gardens meant to invite prayer, reflection and devotional studies.
The site will also offer a public beach access on the Kinneret and a landing dock for the popular Jesus Boats operating on the lake. With several hundred meters of shoreline, the largest single lakefront parcel left on the Sea of Galilee, it is a perfect venue for sunrise services or for a solitary stroll to listen for the Master’s voice.
In some ways, the project resembles the ambitious plan for a Christian Heritage Center three miles farther north which was promoted by the Israeli government only five years ago before interest waned. The Tourism Ministry was unable to corral suitable Christian partners to raise the estimated $50 million needed to develop the center, and the tourism minister behind the effort soon resigned under the cloud of an unrelated scandal.
Ayalon knows her venture will also face challenges on the way to being realized. For one, the total development costs are projected at $60 million. But her plan calls for the business aspect of the hotel and resort to be financed by private investors, government grants and bank loans.
Once an initial $12.5 million is secured to acquire the land, the Israeli government has pledged to kick in up to 24% of the remaining construction costs. Another $30 million will be needed for completing all the facilities.
Another obstacle is that the Sea of Galilee has been severely receding due to overuse of the freshwater reservoir, which provides up to 40% of Israel’s annual water supply. The lake is dangerously close to falling below the “black line” of 214.8 meters below sea level – a depth set by the national water authority beyond which irreversible damage will be done to the sea’s ecology.
But Israeli officials are working hard to conserve water resources and develop alternate sources of water. This includes building four new desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast, sharp reductions in water allocations to the agricultural sector, and world-leading efforts at wastewater recycling.
During a recent visit with Ayalon to the offices of the Kinneret Drainage and Streams Authority, director Zvika Slutzki outlined his team’s latest initiatives to preserve the Sea of Galilee, replenish the Lower Jordan River, develop schemes for regional water management, and generally move from a posture of water consumption to one of water conservation.
Slutzki also assured that the local and national water authorities recognize the tremendous significance the Sea of Galilee holds for Christians worldwide, and are committed to preserving the revered lake for future generations.
His authority has also placed a temporary ban on fishing in the Galilee during the spring and summer spawning seasons so that dwindling schools of the popular tasty St. Peter’s fish can be replenished.
So despite the challenges ahead, Ayalon is confident her dream for The Galilean Resort and Campus will have a better ending than the Ministry of Tourism’s previous project. And there is good reason to expect success, especially given her personal background and investment in the venture.
For starters, Anne Ayalon speaks the language of an Evangelical, since she was raised in a Christian family herself. She is bright, articulate, determined and infectiously optimistic. And she is also uniquely connected to a broad network of pro- Israel Christian leaders as the wife of Danny Ayalon, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington and today the deputy Foreign Minister of Israel.
Hailing from the rural town of Archbold, Ohio, Anne Ayalon was pursuing a degree in hotel management when she first came to Israel in 1978 to intern for a year at the Tel Aviv Hilton. She and Danny met during her first week at the hotel.
He had completed his army service and was working as a security guard at the hotel while studying at nearby Tel Aviv University. The pair became friends and within three months he had proposed.
The couple finished their undergraduate studies and married two years later, in August 1980. The newlyweds then began pursuing Masters’ degrees together at Bowling Green State University back in Ohio.
When the Lebanon War broke out in 1982, the Ayalons encountered widespread hostility towards Israel. In response, the couple launched their own private hasbara effort in the Midwest, speaking to churches and civic groups, and writing letters and opinion columns in support of Israel. They also decided to present a joint thesis for a Master’s in International Business based on promoting Israel as a business client.
This was the start of Danny’s public diplomacy, with Anne as his equal partner. They became self-educated on the issues and received many speaking invitations. “Danny began to understand the American psyche through my family,” she recalled.
When the pair moved back to Israel in 1984, Anne started working in hightech and settled in to becoming an Israeli. Some years later, Danny returned to the US as his nation’s ambassador to Washington. Anne’s duties as an ambassador’s wife meant she often hosted Christian leaders at various diplomatic functions and she built up an extensive network of pro- Israel Christian friends and acquaintances over that time, many who were quite fond of her.
“It is only natural to bring these Christian friends into the loop on the exciting opportunity presented by The Galilean Resort,” she submitted.
One of the first people she convinced to join the venture, however, was a fellow Jew. David Zwebner – today her main partner in the project – comes from a respected family line of Orthodox rabbis. His grandfather Avraham Haim Shag was a member of the first Knesset, headed a yeshiva in Jerusalem and helped found Kfar Saba.
Zwebner himself made aliya from South Africa to Israel in 1966, studied at a yeshiva in Yavne, and then went into selling real estate. After volunteering for the IDF in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he began a succession of amazingly successful business start-ups. From silver recycling to commodities trader, everything Zwebner touched seemed to turn to gold. He readily attributes his entrepreneurial achievements to “Divine Providence.” Zwebner also credits God for saving his life in a serious head-on collision with a fastasleep driver in 2005, which launched him on an inquisitive spiritual journey.
“It was a wake-up call to find my true mission in life,” insisted Zwebner.
“I knew God had always blessed me at the right moments, but I felt there was something more.”
He enrolled in the country’s most reputable tour guides course to learn more about Christian holy sites and religious beliefs and Christianity’s close links to Judaism.
“I was fascinated by the growing Evangelical interest in the Jewish roots of their faith. Many more Jews are now recognizing this as well,” said Zwebner. “I believe Jews should now accept Christian support for what it is worth and not be suspicious. I now recognize it as unconditional love.”
Ayalon first approached Zwebner about the Galilean retreat center some 18 months ago. It was supposed to be only a half-hour meeting, but three hours later he was sold on the project and came on as her full partner.
“I liked that the concept was not just a business venture but it also gave expression to the Jewish roots of Christianity,” he enthused. “It will give Christian visitors more content to their journey through the Land and produce many new goodwill ambassadors.”
All his successes in business start-ups came from others investing in his ideas. So this is actually the first time he has invested his own money in a new business venture, he believes in it so much.
“I am fully confident it will succeed and I firmly believe God’s hand is on the project and on directing those who will join us,” he assured.
Zwebner also commends Anne for already developing a sound business plan. “She’s very focused and a pleasure to work with.”
The two partners are now busy recruiting private investors and selling their concept to Christian leaders.
“The land is the key,” summed up Ayalon. “Many Christian leaders, like Pastor John Hagee and Rev. Robert Stearns, have stood on the land and prayed, and they all sense that God is holding the land for us.”
The proposed Galilean Resort has indeed received endorsements from numerous Christian figures.
Sharon Sanders, co-director of the Jerusalem-based ministry Christian Friends of Israel, calls it an “historic” endeavor in a “powerful setting” which will open a “new chapter” in Jewish-Christian relations.
Rabbi Riskin, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat and head of the Ohr Torah Stone yeshiva network, has also added his backing to the venture.
“Much of Christianity is rooted in the basic precepts of Judaism, such as a God of love along with a demand of moral justice and promises of world peace,” noted Riskin. “The Galilean’s educational programs will reconnect Christianity with its Jewish infrastructure, and enrich the manifold spiritual treasures to be found in the Holy Land.”