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Israel Photography by Yoav Cohen

The Jaffa Port - Biblical Stories, Greek Gods, and One Unlucky Boat

Not too many cities in Israel can boast the genuine antiquity that Jaffa can. Dating as far back as 1800 BCE, the city has been continuously built and developed as it has played key roles in the history of empires and nations.

The Jaffa port is at the heart of the city's history. Among other stories, it is where Jonah fled from his destiny with Ninveh, where the Tribe of Dan “dwelled in ships” according to Deborah, and where King David and King Solomon unloaded the cedars of Lebanon for the first and second Temples.

Alongside these milestones in Jewish history, Jaffa’s port also has a place in Greek mythology - one that perhaps briefly came to life in 2010.

Cassiopeia, wife of Cepheus, would boast that she was more beautiful than the daughters of the sea - the Nereids. As Greek gods did, Poseidon sent Cetus the sea monster to punish Cassiopeia for her hubris, and the shore of Jaffa was ravaged until Cetus was appeased.

Cassiopeia’s way of appeasing the sea monster was to sacrifice her daughter - Andromeda - chaining her to the rocks off the coast. Luckily for Andromeda, she is saved from death by Perseus who had fallen in love with her. Promised as a wife to him from her parents if he could save her, Perseus valiantly battled Cetus to death, cutting off his head which fell into the waters and became the rocks at the entrance to the Jaffa Port.

Since the stories of the bible, epic battles of the gods, and more recent conflicts in recent centuries, the Jaffa port has experienced a quieter period. Out-sized by industrial ports both up and down the coast, it’s vessels belong mainly to the fishermen who supply local markets with daily catches.

One day in 2010, something unusual happened at the port.

As the experienced fishing crew of the “Mazal Tov” fishing trawler navigated out of the port in clear conditions, the boat unexpectedly hit the Andromeda rocks, punching a massive hole in its bow. The three man crew radioed a distress call, keeping faith that their boat could be saved.

Despite the quick response of the Israeli Naval Police and other rescue boats, it became apparent that the boat was going down. Salvage efforts led to nothing, and all that was left to do was leave the boat alongside the rocks of Andromeda.

Why had such experienced fishermen not correctly navigated the course out of the port - no one can say for sure. Perhaps it was a lack of concentration. Perhaps the rocks had shifted in storms of the winter of 2010, just as Jonah has experienced the storms in his plight. Perhaps Cetus awoke for a brief moment, getting just one last act of revenge before falling silent again.

Whatever the reason, today the “Mazal Tov” lies quietly alongside the Greek god as Jaffa goes about another day in its history.

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