Thursday, August 7, 2008

Golan Heights

Nestled among the Kibbutzim and Moshavim of the Golan Heights is the town of Katzrin. With a total population size of some 7,000 people, almost half of the Jewish population of the Golan Heights resides here. Katzrin is the administrative center of the Golan.

When the Six-Day War ended archaeologists performed surveys of various archaeological sites on the Golan. While touring the Bedouin village of Katzrin, the archaeologist Shemaryahu Gutman came upon an ornate doorway made of basalt stone. He discovered that this was the entrance to the synagogue which had functioned 1500 years ago. The name of this town from that time is unknown.

In order to give us an idea of what a house looked like and what the layout of the town was like during Talmudic times, archaeologists performed an elaborate restoration of the ruins of the town. Similar plans are on the drawing board for Um El Kanatir. Here we can see how the town was planned. We see streets, a synagogue, a square in front of the synagogue, and an olive press.

Given that the town is located on the western side of the Golan, grazing and farmland is present. The main industry in this region seems to have been the manufacturing of olive oil. One olive press per town indicates that enough olive oil is produced just for local use. Three to five presses indicates that the townspeople are producing for export.

Olive oil had many uses in antiquity: it was used for nutrition, lighting fuel, medicinal purposes and for lubricating the body. The sages recount the following: Olive oil is beneficial for the health. Thus it is told of Rabbi Chanina aged eighty, who could stand on one leg, remove his shoe and put it back on. Rabbi Chanina said: hot water with oil anointed upon me by my mother at childhood has upheld me during my years of old age. (Talmud Bavli chullin 24b.)

Olive oil is produced in two phases. At first the olive are crushed inside a basin by a large crushing stone resembling a wheel. The wheel was usually pulled by an animal or by people. The first round, the crushing takes about 30 minutes. The crushed olives are transferred to the olive press, immediately nearby. The olives are first put in straw baskets, (kefifot.) There is an Aramaic term, “ladur bikfifah echat” which means “dwelling in a crowded fashion in one area (one basket).”

You put these straw baskets one on top of the next until you have like a sandwich of these akals (Arabic), or baskets. Then you start to take the press and turn it by going around. You would get all the liquids going into the canals and draining into a hole. You pick the oil off of the top and the water goes out the bottom. The liquid of the olive contains both oil and water.

On display as well is an accurate representation of the homes from the Mishnaic time period. All the tools are modeled on actual tools found at the site. One of the most fascinating features of these homes is the roofs. The roof is built with branches placed on top of Oak, cypress and cedar beams. Soil is placed on the branches, mixed with water, and then used to seal the holes in the roof. This keeps out rain and snow. In the summertime, when the mud dries and cracks, it needs to be repaired.

A maagela is a roof roller and was used to fix leaky roofs. Choni the Meagel, the name of the very popular Talmudic figure, is usually translated as Choni the Circle Maker. If you pronounce the word maagal as meagel, you don’t have Choni the circle maker but Choni the roof roller. In the tractate taanit, there are quite a few aggadot about how Choni would pray for rain for his community when there was a drought. More rain, more roof rolling required! This house also has a small kitchen and store room, with no room for animals.

What did they use for food storage? It wasn’t cool here. They placed food up high where kids and mice couldn’t reach it and was covered with a sheet. The floor was made of stone and then covered with a kind of plaster. That’s why you couldn’t sweep the floors because you’d make holes in the grout. Later on it was replaced with tiles.

Outside the house is a ladder. A story about Rabbi Joshua (ben Hannaniah), who hosted a man, gave him food and drink, and then gave him a bed located in the loft. He removed the ladder leading up to the loft. What did this man do?
He awoke in the middle of the night and stole tools and jewelry. When
he tried to descend down the ladder, he fell from the roof and broke his
collarbone. In the morning Rabbi Joshua awoke and found him lying there.

The purpose of bringing this story here at Katzrin is to teach us about the way homes were constructed and how space was used. Apparently, space was maximized by allowing family members to sleep down below and up above. .

The synagogue is clearly a communal building. It occupies the center of the town and its two rows of pillars, with decorative capitals, give it both height and a sense of grandeur. It faces Jerusalem and inside there are menorot carved on the stones.

We have said that when we find a synagogue it means we have found a town, not a village and towns have between 1000-5000 people. On the Golan and beyond the border of the Golan into Syria of today we have ruins of about forty ancient Jewish synagogues. Multiply that by only 1000 and we have 40,000 Jews, at a minimum who were living in this area in Mishnaic times. It seems that the synagogue ceased functioning in 749 CE after a massive earthquake.

They found an inscription in the Golan, “this is the bet midrash of Rabbi Eliezer Akkapar.” They found this in Daburiya above the Jalabun, 3 kilometer from Katzrin. One assumes that a beit midrash existed in Katzrin, but it has not been discovered. It is possible that the synagogue structure simultaneously served both purposes of prayer and study, obviating the need to build a separate structure.

There is the big Tabor oak tree by the synagogue. The tree is estimated to be some 600 years old. Some years ago, I attended my cousin's wedding here. The chupah was set up in the ruins of the ancient synagogue. It was a beautiful and moving experience.

The park is open daily, from 9-4. There is an admission fee. For more information call 04 696-1412 or email

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is the first all-Jewish city in modern times. Originally named Ahuzat Bayit, it was founded by 60 families in 1909 as a Jewish neighborhood near Jaffa. In 1910, the name was changed to Tel Aviv, meaning "hill of spring." The name was taken from Ezekiel 3:15, "...and I came to the exiles at Tel Aviv," and from a reference in Herzl's novel Altneuland, in which he foresaw the future Jewish state
as a socialist utopia.

In 1909 the founders of Tel Aviv are living in Ahuzat Bayit and they want to found the most modern city in the world. Keep in mind that there were only 60 families to carry out this enterprise. The idea actually started in 1906, but in 1909 they had a lottery and they really started to build. They decided to flatten the land in an empty dry river bed to be able to build on it. They filled the area with sand from the beach, using wheelbarrows. They didn’t want to use Arab labor. The main street of the city was Herzl St., which was the widest street.

Independence Hall Museum (old home of Dizengoff, built in 1909)

It is a very plain building, but was the place of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv lived here with his wife, Zina. It was in this c house that the independence of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948. Exhibits here detail Israel's declaration of independence. The first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, made the proclamation at 4pm on May 14, 1948 in the main hall, eight hours before the British mandate over the region was due to end, in the presence of the members of the Vaad Leumi (Jewish National Council), as well as the leaders of the Jewish community. After David Ben-Gurion read the declaration of independence, Rabbi Fischman (Maimon), recited the Shehecheyanu blessing, and the Declaration of Independence was signed.

You can see a picture of the 66 families that founded Tel Aviv, from Jaffa. A guide will tell you about how the original families chose lots, by using white and gray sea shells. Names were put on one set of sea shells, and the lot numbers were put on the other. Jews were not allowed to buy land from the Ottoman Empire, but after 3 years they managed to buy 40 acres of sand dunes just north of Jaffa. The first neighborhood was called Ahuzat Bayit. Dizengoff received lot number 43. There is a 14-minute film about the founding of Israel to the present time.

After the film a guide will take you to the main hall and talk about the day that the Declaration was signed. In the main hall of the house, visitors can hear a recording of Ben-Gurion reading the Charter for the new State. The next morning Arab armies were invading and the Egyptian Air Force was bombing Tel Aviv. There are actually two museums in this building; the Dizengoff Museum and the Beit Ha Tanach –
The Bible Museum.
Opening Hours are Sunday-Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
16 Rothschild Blvd., Tel Aviv (03) 510-6426, (03) 517-3942

If you are planning a trip to Tel Aviv, be sure to visit the Nachalat Benyamin - Art & Craft Fair. Tel Aviv’s Nachalat Benjamin Street comes alive with an Art & Craft Fair that features the works of roughly 220 artists, twice a week. Called Nachalat Benyamin in Hebrew, it is adjacent to shuk Ha’Carmel. In Tel Aviv’s early days this was the longest street in the city.
The setting is one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods. First established as the Nachalat Benyamin Association, it initially comprised 40 members. Unlike the residents of Achuzat Bait, most of whom were from the upper classes, most of the new association’s members were tradesmen, clerks and shopkeepers who wanted to create a neighborhood similar to Achuzat Bait.
They managed to purchase 5 acres which were divided into 35 plots (smaller than those of Achuzat Bait). The houses that were erected consisted of two rooms, a kitchen and a porch. Construction began in 1911 and by 1912 there were 23 houses. When construction was completed the new residents realized that they did not have the means to establish the necessary infrastructure for their new neighborhood. Therefore, a partial consolidation of Nachalat Benyamin and Tel Aviv took place in 1911; the full consolidation was completed in 1912.
Since 1987 the street (which has many textile shops) has been home to the Art & Craft Fair. Whether you’re looking to treat yourself to a gift, need one for your hosts in Israel, or friends back home, this is great place to shop. Prices are extremely reasonable and the variety is such that there is literally ‘something for everyone’.
Hours: The Art & Craft Fair at Nachalat Benyamin is held on Tuesday and Friday – from 10:00 AM – to 5:00 PM, year round. The Fair does not take place in cases of heavy rain or winds. 03/516-2037.
Another market you'll surely want to visit is Shuk HaCarmel located in the middle of the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv.
If second-hand clothing and shoes are your thing, then the first stalls you see when you enter the market offer fashions reminiscent of the 1980s. Further along the market towards the bus station is the epicentre of HaCarmel - the food market.

And as long as we are in Tel Aviv, we might as well make a stop in Jaffa. Jaffa is the oldest and perhaps most famous of the ports along the Israel’s coast. From Jaffa port, the prophet Yonah set sail for Tarshish, running away when G-d commanded him to preach in the wicked city of Nineveh.
King Hiram of Tyre sent wood for the First Temple on a raft to Jaffa. and when wood was needed for the Second Temple it, too, arrived by way of Jaffa. The old city of Jaffa is filled with much Jewish history.
And if you came to hunt for a bargain, you came to the right place; the Jaffa flea Market located east of the clock tower at the foot of Old Jaffa.
You can weave your way through a mixed array of treasures and junk. Merchandise varies, but copper, brass, old Persian tiles, and jewelry are always to be found, as well as Judaica items, old family photo albums, and tons of used jeans and mildewed clothing from India. Bargaining is the order of the day; feel free to indulge in lengthy haggling. Even if there is a little language problem, you can get a lot understood with your hands. It's great fun even if you don't buy anything.
The flea market is open Sunday to Thursday from 10am to 6pm and on Friday from 10am to 2pm.