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The reconstructed synagogue at Ein Keshatot

The reconstructed synagogue at Ein Keshatot is the largest and most impressive of the 31 or so ancient synagogues discovered in the Golan Heights, and this visitor-friendly site has deservedly become a popular tourist destination.

VISITING THE SYNAGOGUE

 

Directions: Enter “Ein Keshatot” into Waze. 

Admission details: From March to October, the site is open Sunday to Thursday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Friday and holiday eve: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and Saturday: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. From November to February, it is open Sunday to Thursday: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Friday and holiday eve: 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and Saturday: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. The last entry is one hour before closing. Admission is 25 nis for adults, and 15 nis for children older than 5 and pensioners. This is their website. 

Public transport: The closest bus stop is in Natur, and Ein Keshatot is a 2.5 Km/28-minute walk from Natur. Enter "Natur" into Moovit. There are buses to Natur from Aniam, Katzrin, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Mevo Hama, and the Degania area.

Synagogue at Ein Keshotot.jpeg

WHAT WAS THE POINT OF RECONSTRUCTING AN ANCIENT SYNAGOGUE?

 

A Jewish community lived here during the Byzantine period, although its name is  not known. The local Bedouin called the ruins “Um el-Kanatir,” meaning the Site of the Arches, because of the arches by the pools. Hence, this site is now called in Hebrew Ein Keshatot, meaning Spring of the Arches.

 

In the late 1800’s, Laurence Oliphant, a Scottish Christian Zionist who was exploring the country, suspected that there was an ancient synagogue here. He wrote that this was “the best of the discoveries that I have ever made.” Oliphant’s discovery and the comments about his discovery are all the more remarkable in that all he could see were piles of stones.

 

One hundred and twenty years later, in 2003, Yehoshua Dray, an expert in reconstruction technology, decided to rebuild the synagogue from these piles of stones. He and two archeologists set up a crane, made a 3D digital scan of each of the blocks, placed a microchip in each block, and used a newly devised computer program to assign all the blocks to their correct positions rather than using intuition. It took them ten years to complete the project.

  

Jews first settled in this location in about 150 CE, some 14 years after the Bar Kochba Revolt, and the synagogue was built in the 6th century. An interesting question is why a community of only 50 people, maximum 100, would go to the effort and considerable expense of building such a monumental synagogue. It would also have taken them years to complete. The very same question could be asked of other impressive synagogues in the Galilee and Golan Heights.

 

An answer may be that these Jews were attempting to recreate for themselves the magnificence of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews were forbidden to enter Byzantine Jerusalem, even though geographically they were not that far away. Moreover, at the site of the Temple was a Christian church. These synagogues were therefore a means for the villagers to express their longing for the rebuilding of the Temple. This would also explain the symbolic decorations in the synagogue of Temple objects, particularly on the stone ark. 

 

The synagogue and the villagers’ homes were destroyed by a severe earthquake in 749 CE and this village, together with others in the Golan, were abandoned.


What was the point, one might ask, of putting so much effort into reconstructing this synagogue from its building blocks? A ruin is a ruin. Put up a sign with imaginative drawings and just let it be.

 

One possible answer is that Zionism is not only about creating the future, but also about recreating the past. Jews have long memories and in their old-new country they are recreating the history and beauty of their past. One might even say, and the Torah does say this, that this country has been waiting patiently for centuries for Jews to do exactly this.

VISITING THE SITE: 

 

First view the movie about the reconstruction of the synagogue shown in the Visitor Center. Then make your way down the hill to the pools on the left. The arch by the spring on the right was dug out and uncovered, while the other two were reconstructed. The purpose of these arches is unclear, but they were presumably for decoration. The two pools on the left provided water for drinking for humans and animals, while that on the right was for industrial use, in particular for the whitening of flax for textile manufacturing, which was an important activity here. This and the growing of olives and production of olive oil were the main industries of this village.

Now make your way to the synagogue. The front entrance on its southern wall faces Jerusalem. A covered patio is supported by four pillars. The front of the building is asymmetric in terms of the doorway and position of the stone ark. The pillars inside the building supported a second story and are also not completely symmetrical. It would seem that symmetry was not an overriding concern to the architects of this building.

Note the symbols graven onto the pillars encompassing the stone ark – namely a seven-branch menorah (candelabra), a lulav and esrog (which are two of the Four Species used on the festival of Tabernacles/Succot), and an incense shovel. All these were formerly used in the Temple. The stone ark would have contained a wooden ark for the Torah, but this has not survived.

Steon ark.jpeg
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