The Jews of Picturesque Peki’in

This picturesque mainly Druze village not that far from Karmiel is a unique place in that one Jewish family has lived here almost uninterrupted since the destruction of the Second Temple. Margolit Zinati’s synagogue can be visited and the lower level of her home has become a visitor center which documents in movies and displays the history of Jewish life in Peki’in. The cave in which Rabbi Shimeon ben Yochai hid for 13 years is a short walk from the synagogue. A short distance from Peki’in is the interesting Rocks Park and a beautiful hike between Harashim and Peki’in.

VISITING THE SYNAGOGUE AND RASHBI'S CAVE

 

Directions: To reach the center of Peki’in, enter “ מטבח השביל” into Waze and click on “מטבח השביל Peki’in, Israel.” This is a restaurant which has nearby parking. Before you, is one of the village springs. Follow the sign to the nearby synagogue.

Admission: The synagogue is open 10.30 am to 4.30 pm Sunday to Thursday and until 1.00 pm on Fridays. It is worth calling beforehand 04-999 7197. The email address is beitzinati@gmail.com.

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The interior of the synagogue at Peki’in. It was built in 1873 on the ruins of a much earlier synagogue from the Roman period.

The Jews of Peki'in 

 

Would the last Jew please turn out the light?

 

The Zinati family was determined this would not happen and Jews have been living continuously in Peki’in since at least Second Temple times. The first Zinati’s to live in Peki’in may well have been priests who came here in 70 CE to engage in agriculture after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

 

In about 1938 the Jews were forced to leave Peki’in because of the Arab riots and none returned except for one family, the Zinati family, who came back a few years later. This family was determined to preserve a Jewish presence in the village even though the father had been almost killed in these riots. Ironically, perhaps, the Jewish Agency/ Jewish National Fund encouraged the Jews of Peki’in not to return, since they considered it too dangerous. Rather, they assisted them in selling their land and the money was used to establish a new Jewish settlement, Peki’in HaHadasha, some miles from the village.

 

The parents of this one remaining family sent their children to a boarding school in Jerusalem. The son subsequently married and settled elsewhere, but Margolit returned to her parents in the village. She looked after her parents in their old age and decided she would remain here to preserve a Jewish presence. This meant remaining single, since it was unlikely that any husband would have agreed to live in Peki’in.

 

Margolit Zinati is now the custodian of Peki’in’s synagogue and her house is close by. The Roman era synagogue was destroyed by an earthquake in 1837, but the ruins were rebuilt in 1873 with the financial assistance of a Jew from Beirut. Within the walls of the new synagogue are two engraved stones that are probably from the original synagogue and which are believed to have been taken from Jerusalem when Jewish settlers came here after the destruction of the Temple. The primary teacher of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya (1st and 2nd centuries CE), had a study hall (beit midrash) in the old synagogue and was a leading tanna (a sage whose views are recorded in the Mishna) in the period after the destruction of the Temple.

 

Over the last 2,000 years, the Jewish families here worked in agriculture and blended into their environment with respect to their language and dress. Arabs joined the Jews of Peki’in the 11th century, Christian Arabs in the 12th century during the Crusader period, and Druze in the 18th century. The Druze remain the largest element in Peki’in.

 

A visitor to the village in 1875 describes the village having about 600 people, including a few Jewish families. “.. thanks to the two springs which issue from the hillside, they cultivate on the slopes and almost to the bottom of the valley delicious gardens, watered by numerous streams. Here grow, on different terraces, kept up by great walls, probably ancient, fruit trees of all kinds, such as citrons, oranges, pomegranates, figs, quinces and mulberries. The vine flourishes marvelously, as is shown by the enormous trunks.” (Quoted from Peki’in in Wikipedia).

 

In acknowledgment of her keeping the light on, Margolit has been honored in award ceremonies. She also lit the torch for Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebration.  (For an inspiring article on Margolit and her family click here).

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Picture of Margolit's family

MORE DIRECTIONS:

 

  • Go first to the Visitor’s center, which is on the lower level of Magolit‘s home (she lives upstairs). There is an admission charge for a guided tour. You will be taken first to the synagogue. Note the two engraved stones in the wall. According to tradition they were brought from Jerusalem when Jewish settlers came here after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. A 14-minute movie about the Jewish community can be seen in English. In the visitor’s center is a collection of farm implements from the beginning of this century. There are also two short movies with English subtitles with stories about important aspects of this Jewish community.

  • From the synagogue go the “Cave of Rashbi.” This is where Rabbi Shimeon ben Yochai is thought to have hidden out with his son for 13 years during the Hadrianic persecutions and where he studied Jewish mysticism and composed the Zohar. The cave seems very small, but this is because it was partially closed off by an earthquake.

  • Ben Yochai and his son Rabbi Eleazer sustained themselves with spring water and the fruit of a carb tree. They stayed in the cave until their death sentence was revoked after the death of Hadrian.

 

OTHER NEARBY ACTIVITIES

 

Harashim-Peki'in Trail 

 

This is a highly recommended downhill one-way trail from the Jewish settlement of Harashim to Peki’in that winds between olive groves on the hillside and provides exceptional views of the hilly countryside and nearby villages and towns.

 

Because the trail is one-way, you will need to make arrangements for your car. It is suggested that you park your car in Peki’in at the very bottom of the trail on Al-Mayadeen St with its intersection with Ajrama St. Unfortunately, neither of these streets is in Waze or Google Maps. Therefore, order a local taxi and tell the driver where you wish to park the car, and he can then take you to Harashim (“Harashim” in Waze). Don’t rely on him being familiar with the trail. Close to the entrance to the settlement is a yellow sign on your right with the word פקיעין. You can be let off here and a path will take you around this small settlement and onto the down-hill black-marked part of the trail.

 

For the first part of the trail there is easy climbing down on rocks, and this then leads to a relaxing countryside lane. After about ¾ hour there is a turning on the right to a tel.

 

Bronze Age pottery has been found on this tel and there is a nearby burial cave  from the Chalcolithic era. Also a remnant of an iron melting furnace and hence the name - iron smiths (In Hebrew smiths comes from the word Harashim). However, there are no findings to see on the tel now and the views are wonderful from wherever you are, so it is questionable whether it is worth putting in the effort to go up. The trail will bring you directly to your car.

 

Rocks Park in Kisra Sume'a 

Rocks Park is a small interesting park adjoining the Druze village of Kisra-Sume’a with unusual natural limestone towers and slabs set among the Mediterranean vegetation. It is only a short drive from Peki’in. (Enter “Rocks Park” into Waze and click on ‘Rocks Park, Kisra-Sumei, Israel.”) There is single paved path through the length of the park with an entrance at each end.  Allow about 15 to 30 minutes to explore. There are some signs with explanations in Hebrew. There is a somewhat rocky but otherwise easy trail with lots of shade from this park to nearby Sne Mountain, but there are no views along the trail because of the vegetation and you can easily give it a miss. 

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