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Gush Halav, Gush Halav stream and ancient synagogues

This beautiful and fascinating hike starts in the Maronite village of Jish, which is on the northeast slope of Mount Meron. In was formerly a Jewish town called Gush Halav, and it is still known by both its Jewish and Arabic name. You will experience the spectacular scenery of the mountains of the Upper Galilee, the chalk canyon of the Gush Halav stream and the beauty of a year-long flowing stream. You will also pass two ancient synagogues, the spring of Ein Alva and a small pond. The inhabitants of Gush Halav are pro-Israel, and you should feel very comfortable exploring this quaint and prosperous town.



Time: About 3¼ to 3½ hours.

Distance: : About 7¾ Km.

Type of hike: This is a circular hike. However, it is also possible to turn back at any time for a much shorter hike. Some people may just wish to walk to the ancient synagogue.

Difficulty: The majority of this hike is on paved roads and dirt footpaths. However, there is one section, an ascent on a snake-like dirt footpath which is a bit difficult because of the steep incline. Because of this, and although there is no climbing, this hike can be regarded as mild to moderately difficult. There are two stream crossings, but the water is shallow and there are convenient boulders to cross on. Nevertheless, walking sticks can be helpful for this and for the ascent along the river bank.

Directions: To park close to the beginning of the trail, enter into Waze “Jish” and click on “Jish local council.” This will take you to the bottom of the main road of Jish and then to a turning on the left. However, instead of taking this left turn, turn right one side-turning before you would otherwise go to the left (and not the side turning to the right opposite to where Waze was directing you). This turn off is just after a bus stop and the business ליב חם on the right side of the road. There are also green markings on poles on either side of the entrance to this street. Park along this road being sure not to obstruct any of the houses.

Public transport: There are bus lines to Jish from Safed, Tel Hai and Carmiel.  Enter into Moovit "Jish."

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Ruins of a mill on the green-marked trail

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Ruins of the synagogue from Roman and Byzantine times from the green-marked trail

The rich history of Gush Halav


Gush Halav is currently inhabited by mainly Maronite Catholic Christians and some Melkite Greek Catholic Christians and a small minority of Muslims.


It has a very rich history. Evidence has been found of Canaanite and Israelite habitation. The town is not mentioned in the Bible, but the Mishna tells us that the city was “surrounded by walls since the time of Joshua ben Nun.” After the destruction of the First Temple, it was inhabited by returnees from Babylon and the town continued to have a strong Jewish presence until the 16th century. Jerome mentions that Paul of Tarsus lived here with his parents.


According to Josephus, Gischala, which was Gush Halav’s Greek name, was the last town in the Galilee to fall to the Romans during the Great Revolt. John of Gischala, otherwise known as Yohanan from Gush Halav, was one of the main leaders of the revolt and he vied with Josephus for its leadership. After the fall of Gush Halav, he fled to Jerusalem and became part of the factitious leadership that eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Second Temple.


By the Ottoman period the town was totally Muslim and then became Druze. Maronite Christians first settled here during the early 18th century when the Druze left because of conflict. An earthquake in 1837 led to widespread damage to the town.


The Israel Defense Forces captured Gush Halav during Israel’s War of Independence as it had become a base for Kaukgi’s Arab Liberation Army. After the war, its original inhabitants were allowed to return together with Maronite Christians who had been forced to leave nearby Biram. On the hike you will pass Arab houses from as early as the 18th century and these are indicated by signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English.  



  • Continue along the green-marked paved city road. This becomes a dirt jeep road. You will soon see the ruins of the ancient lower synagogue of Gush Halav on your right. It is not signposted. In front of it is a dirt area for parking and you will see olive trees and pillars through the neat metal fencing. You can enter the ruins through the open gate.


  • Construction of this synagogue began in the Roman period from the 2nd or 3rd centuries CE and renovations were continued until about the 5th or 6th centuries. There are rows of columns parallel to the walls and foyers on either side of the columns. The synagogue faces to the south, towards Jerusalem. A column on the right as you enter has a dedication inscription in Aramaic. There is a fallen lintel by the synagogue entrance with the image of an eagle with outstretched wings, a not uncommon decoration on synagogues. The congregants probably lived adjacent to the synagogue where fig groves are now growing, but these have not been excavated.


  • At the bottom of the hill, you will come to an easy shallow stream crossing. Just before the crossing, it is possible to make a diversion to the spring of Ein Alva. It will add about 15 minutes to your hike (and this is included in the time and distance above). There are two possible routes. The first path involves crossing a very shallow tributary just to the right of the stream crossing and you will soon see a path leading up a hill. There is another path just after crossing the Gush Halav stream leading up another hill. Despite its first appearance, this path is actually less hilly than the first. Alternatively, go on one path and return on the other! The spring emerges from a concrete construction.


  • Return to the green-marked trail by the Gush Halav stream. When you come to a rusty gate, open it and continue on the trail. You will pass the ruins of a number of flour mills. These are several hundred years old. Beyond the third mill is another shallow and easy stream-crossing.


  • Close to this stream-crossing look for a dirt footpath that goes up a gully on this side of the bank. Because of its steepness, this is a moderately difficult path, although it does not involve any rock climbing. This zig-zagging path leads eventually to the pretty pool of Ein Hakchala, so-called because of the blue color of its water. It is a seasonal pond formed from rainwater. It is a nice place to stop for a picnic.


  • After walking around the pool on your left, you will see 3 paths ahead of you. Take the middle path straight ahead up the hill. At the next junction this will continue as a black-marked trail and will lead to the paved roads of Gush Halav.


Just before the village entrance is a road to the left that leads to the Maronite Mar Butrus Church. Outside this church are the ruins of another synagogue, also from the Roman-Byzantine period. It is not surprising that a synagogue and church are at the same location as this has a high elevation within the town.


  • Continuing on this main road, you will pass on your right a children’s play park. After the business Step to Success the road curves to the left. From this road you can see Mount Meron on your right. This is the highest mountain in pre-1967 Israel, although mountains in the Golan are higher. You may wish to take a turning on the right to view the tomb of Rabbi Yochai and his wife Sarah. They were the parents of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai.


  • At the end of this road turn right onto the main road of the town.


Other tombs in the town are those of the 1st century sages Shmaya and Abtalion, close to the entrance of the town. Enter the restaurant Al Liali into Google maps and the tombs are a bit further along this road].

How do archeologists figure out when an ancient synagogue was built?


Deposits of coins have been found at the top of the foundations of at least 57 synagogues in Palestine and the diaspora, including the lower Gush Halav synagogue. By looking at when the coins were issued, archeologists can provide a time range for the construction of the synagogue.


But why were these coins placed here?


A foundational ritual for religious buildings was very common in the Mediterranean basin and beyond. At the beginning of construction, coins, figurines, sacrifices, inscriptions and other precious materials were deposited in important places in the building in a religious ceremony carried out by a priest.


The coins deposited in synagogues were probably not part of this ritual. There is no mention in Jewish texts of such a ceremony, the coins were not associated with any other precious objects, they were not usually deposited in bundles at a major point in the building but scattered throughout the foundations, and were usually placed by the floor rather than deep in the foundations.


An answer may be that the coins placed in synagogues were not part of a religious ritual, but a secular equivalent without religious meaning. The Jews were forbidden by Jewish law to adopt pagan customs. Nevertheless, they saw value in throwing a few non-precious coins on the top of the foundations of their synagogues perhaps as a good luck charm or as a means of indicating for posterity when the building was erected.

Who are Maronite Christians?


Even though you see church spires when you enter Gush Halav, you should appreciate that this is not a typical Christian Arab town, as for example Nazareth or the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. This is because most of the people here are not Christian Arabs but Christian Maronites. Maronites are Catholic and in full communion with the Pope and the rest of the Catholic church.


Christians constitute about 2% of the population of Israel and 78% are Christian Arabs. Most Christian Arabs belong to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which broke away from the Greek Orthodox Church in the 18th century and joined the Catholic Church.


Most Maronites in the Middle East live in Lebanon, and just over a million Maronites constitute about 32% of the Lebanese population. There are also small Maronite communities in Syria, Cyprus and Israel. There are approximately 11,000 Maronites in this country and most live in the north of Israel, in Haifa, Gush Halav, Isfiya, Acre, Makr, and also in Jaffa. Even more Maronites, about 2 million people, live in the diaspora outside the Middle East.


Maronites are followers of Maron, who was a 4th-century Syriac Christian hermit and saint. He sent Abraham of Cyrrhus to convert the pagan population of Lebanon. When the Muslims swept into this region in the 7th century, the Maronites resisted changing their faith. They spoke Aramaic in the past (as did the Jews), and their prayers are still in Aramaic.


You will notice that all the store signs are in Hebrew and not in Arabic. Their children are not required to join the Israeli army, but most of their high school graduates do volunteer for the army or National Service. There is also a 2,500-meter Coexistence Trail for hiking and biking that links Gush Halav to the nearby Jewish town of Dalton and which has several lookout points.


In sum, you can feel very safe visiting Gush Halav.

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Mount Meron viwed from the town of Gush Halav.

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The spring Ein Alva.

Trail to Nahal Gush Halav To follow your location on your smart phone, click on for the entire hike and for the part of the hike in town. Click on the black box with a cross at the top left of the map and it should change color to green. It is not necessary to download the free app unless you wish to.

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