Kibbutz Is Top Spot for Jordan River Baptisms

Galilee Site Is a Draw for Christian Tourists to Holy Land

You’ve Been Dunked: Christian pilgrims dip at Yardenit.
Courtesy Yardenit
You’ve Been Dunked: Christian pilgrims dip at Yardenit.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published December 02, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In the past few years, Yardenit has constructed modern buildings and renovated older ones to offer comfortable changing rooms and showers, along with an upscale restaurant and a gift store that looks like a Christian-themed duty-free shop. It sells everything from bottles of holy water and charms emblazoned with pictures of saints to shofars and tallitot for Christians who want souvenirs recalling Jesus’ own religion.

Upon arrival, guests are asked if they have their own baptismal gowns. If not, they can rent one for $10, or buy one for $23. For $2 extra, the gown comes with a picture of Jesus being baptized on its front, with or without a Russian caption saying “Jordan River.” Like at theme parks, a videographer records group baptisms and shows them on a screen in a stall on the riverbank so that visitors can buy the videos if they wish.

But despite the commercial bent, the place has been tastefully constructed. When Bobrov became manager in the 1990s, he removed the advertisements for soda and ice cream. There are no entrance fees, and pilgrims can visit without spending a dime. And the kibbutz takes seriously its mission statement for the site: to give each visitor a “unique religious experience.” It displays the account of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Mark in 70 languages, and helps groups to run special ceremonies after immersion, sometimes inviting congregations to plant olive trees.

“I think everything that the kibbutz has done is in a very dignified and welcoming manner,” said David Parsons, a senior official at Jerusalem’s International Christian Embassy, one of the main Christian bodies that bring pilgrims to Israel. “There was no site like this before Yardenit and the kibbutz identified a need and answered it with the lovely setting and all the services you need.”

Unlike Parsons, most pilgrims are unaware of the unlikely story of kibbutzniks facilitating mass baptism; they are far too taken with the Biblical story. In fact, while most Israelis have never heard of the site, some Christians regard it as more important than Jerusalem. “This is the most important symbol in Christianity,” said Brazilian Pentecostal pastor Francisco Nicolau, who was visiting the site.

Renato Rogo, 27, from Bristol, England, said, “Every time I read the Bible, I imagine myself in the place I have been reading about, and I’ve been thinking about being here since I became Christian in 2006.”

Some people are convinced that its spiritual power is so strong that it carries even via broadcast. “I saw on television a group of pilgrims baptizing at Yardenit,” said Divanier Barbosa, a 60-year-old tailor from São Paulo. “Then I received the Holy Spirit and started speaking in tongues. I had a vision that I would be here and had to do everything to get here. I had a lot of difficulty with money, but it didn’t matter, I had to struggle to get here.” She said that her immersion didn’t disappoint. “I feel like a new creature.”

Nathan Jeffay is the Forward’s Israel correspondent. Contact him at jeffay@forward.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.