The Jews of picturesque Peki’in
This picturesque mainly Druze village not far from Karmiel is unique in that one Jewish family has lived here almost uninterrupted since the destruction of the Second Temple. The synagogue of the one remaining resident of this family, Margolit Zinati, can be visited. The lower level of her home functions as a Visitor Center and documents with movies and displays the history of Jewish life in Peki’in. The cave in which Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai allegedly hid for 13 years is a short walk from the synagogue. There is also a wonderful hike with fantastic views from nearby Harashim to Peki’in. A short drive from Peki’in is the interesting Rocks Park.
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 that 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 to be sure they are open - 04-999 7197. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The interior of the synagogue at Peki’in. It was built in 1873 on the ruins of a synagogue from the Roman period.
The last Jew of Peki'in
Would the last Jew please turn out the light?
The Zinati family was determined this would not happen and because of this Jews have been living in Peki'in almost continuously 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 their 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 this 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 to preserve a Jewish presence. This meant she would remain single, since it was unlikely that any husband would agree 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 restored 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 in Peki'in worked in agriculture and blended into their environment with respect to their language and dress. Arabs joined the Jews of Peki’in 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 today.
A visitor to the village in 1875 described the village as 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).
Picture of Margolit's family
MORE DIRECTIONS FOR YOUR VISIT TO PEKI'IN:
Go first to the Visitor 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 that are part of 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 Center. Plus two short movies with English subtitles with stories about important aspects of the Jewish community that lived here. There is also a collection of farm implements from the beginning of 20th century.
From the synagogue walk to the “Cave of Rashbi.” This is where Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai is thought to have hidden out with his son Rabbi Eleazar for 13 years during the Hadrianic persecutions and where he studied Jewish mysticism and composed the Zohar. They sustained themselves with spring water and the fruit of a carob tree. They stayed in the cave until their death sentence was revoked after the death of Hadrian (see the page Meron and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai for a summary of Rashbi's life). The cave seems very small, but this is because it was partially closed off by an earthquake.
Ben Yochai and his son Rabbi Eleazer
OTHER NEARBY ACTIVITIES
The Harashim-Peki'in Trail
This is a wonderful downhill one-way trail from the Jewish settlement of Harashim to Peki’in that winds between the 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 figure out what you are doing with your car. It is suggested that you park it in Peki’in at the very bottom of the trail on Al-Mayadeen St with its intersection with Ajrama St. 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. 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 Harashim 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 downhill 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. However, there are currently no findings on the tel and the views are wonderful from wherever you are. It is questionable, therefore, whether it is worth putting in the effort to go up.
Bronze Age pottery was found on the tel and there is a nearby burial cave from the Chalcolithic era. Also the remnant of an iron melting furnace (hence the name Harashim, which means smiths).
The continuation of the trail brings 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 that has 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.