The little town of Bethlehem conjures up images of wise men and frankincense, and of a little twinkling star high above a stable, as pictured on countless Christmas cards. It’s a unique place, and obviously full of history, including the Church of the Nativity, the site of Jesus’ birthplace. But did you know that there are actually TWO Bethlehems in Israel? Oh yes, two!
The chances that most Christian tourists and pilgrims making their way to Israel will have heard of the other Bethlehem are extraordinarily slim. I myself hadn’t heard of this other Bethlehem until a couple of years ago. But yes, it exists, and hey, is actually a very cute place to visit!
Officially called Bethlehem of the Galilee (some call it the Bethlehem of the North), or Bet Lehem HaGlalit in Hebrew, it’s a very cute farming village (or moshav) set in the beautiful Galilee countryside. Some learned scholars and archaeologists have even suggested that this Bethlehem is the real Bethlehem of Jesus’ birth, thanks to its close proximity to Nazareth, only 10km away.
It has an almost European feel to it, with old-stone houses set back from a tree-lined road and that laid back atmosphere you won’t find in too many places in Israel, especially the big cities.
Perhaps the European touch can be traced back to its early days, when it was set up as a farming community by German Christian Templars in 1906. These German families even stayed loyal to the rise of Nazi power in the 1930s (believe it or not, there was a branch of the Hitler youth in Israel), and upon the outbreak of the Second World War, the British interned all German “enemy aliens”. After the War ended, any of the German families left in Israel (many had been moved to Cyprus and Australia) were either expelled or left of their own accord. In the War of Independence in 1948, Jewish farmers reclaimed the village.
With many of the old Templar buildings remaining, Bethlehem of the Galilee is a great little place to visit, especially at the weekend when it caters to quite a growing tourist crowd. I’ve noticed plenty of cyclists around the area, as it is a beautiful area to pedal around. There are a few small guest house type places to stay in, and a few charming restaurants that probably only open on the weekend. But definitely worth a little visit.
Convincing others when you get back home that you visited two Bethlehems in Israel might be another matter…