At precisely 9:00 a.m. I departed from the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba and headed northeast toward the Golan Heights. My destination was an archaeological site in the southern Golan near the Israeli kibbutz of Natur.
Some refer to this site by its Arabic name of Umm el Kanatir or Mother of Arches, while others refer to it by its Hebrew name, Keshatot Rechavam or the Arches of Rechavam, named after Israeli general, Rechavam Zeevi. Both Hebrew and Arabic names reference two prominent and well-preserved Roman-era arches built over a local spring.
Keshatot Rechavam is no ordinary archaeological site. It has been identified as the site of the ancient Jewish village of Kantur and houses a spectacular and ornate Byzantine era, 5th century synagogue, some 60 feet long by 40 feet wide.
The synagogue along with the entire village was destroyed in 749 C.E. when it was struck by a massive earthquake. But the stones of the impressive synagogue remained where they fell or in archaeological terms, remained in situ, untouched for nearly 1,300 years; that is, until now.
The Golan Heights was liberated by the Israeli Defense forces during the last 48 hours of the Six-Day War. The volcanic plateau revealed itself to be not only of immense strategic value to the Jewish State but also proved to be a treasure trove for those interested in archaeology and ancient Judaica.
When I visited the Keshatot Rechavam in 2011, the synagogue was in disrepair and looked as though it had in the year 749. Large stones were strewn about and pillars, apparently meant to support a second floor or a roof, were felled. Nevertheless, there were clear indicators that the Israeli Antiquities Authority was in the process of engaging in a major restoration project aimed restoring the synagogue to its ancient splendor. Large building stones were meticulously numbered in deliberate fashion in a quest to piece together and reconstruct the building, like a giant real life puzzle.
When I arrived at the site some seven years later, I was amazed at the extent of the restoration. The ark which housed the holy Torah scrolls was completely restored and was truly a magnificent site to behold. The foundational pillars for the roof or second floor were pieced together and the walls of the synagogue had grown. Prominent arched entrances were now visible and there was even a noticeable cellar.
What truly amazed me though were the ornate engravings. There were engravings of wine jugs surrounded by wheat stalks and grape bundles, perhaps symbolizing plentiful bounty. There was an engraving of a lion biting the neck of a lamb. There were eagle engravings on the arched entrance as well as on the ark itself. Some have noted that the eagle was a symbol commonly associated with the Land of Judea.
But of even greater import were the numerous Jewish symbols engraved throughout the structure. I counted no less than six menorahs, the multi-branched candelabra used by Jews during First and Second Temple religious rituals, and still used by Jews in contemporary times during the holiday Hanukkah to commemorate the great Jewish triumph over Greek invaders in the second century B.C. But there were two particular engravings, etched on the pillars of the synagogue’s ark that caught my eye. The engravings consisted of menorah, flanked on the right by an Etrog (the fruit of a citron tree) and a Lulav (a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree). They represent two of the four species used by the Jewish people during the festival of Sukkot. On the menorah’s left was a depiction of an incense shovel similar to that which was used by ancient priests or Kohanim in the First and Second Temples.
Though the Second Temple had been destroyed in 70 C.E., approximately 300 to 400 years prior to the construction of the Kanatir synagogue, these Jews had not forgotten their origins or history. As I noted in a previous article regarding ancient synagogues located in the Palestinian Authority-occupied city of Jericho, these structures were routinely decorated with Jewish symbols like menorahs, shofars, lulavim, etrogim and incense shovels.
While examining the engravings, I had the fortune of meeting Kanatir’s chief restorer, the chain-smoking, Turkish coffee-drinking, Yeshua Dray and asked him what he thought of the ornate Judaic engravings. “Does it not prove to the world Jewish indigenousness in the Land of Israel?” I asked. He responded that it was wrong to politicize archaeology because “beneath the Jewish civilization may lie an older one.” “That may be true,” I answered, “but how many of those civilizations still exist and still maintain the same customs and traditions after 3,000 years!” I was answered with a polite smile and a conceding shrug of the shoulders.
The synagogue discovered at Keshatot Rechavam was one of at least 25 to dot the Golan landscape. While it is certainly not the oldest – the synagogue discovered at Gamla just north of Kanatir dates to the first century C.E. – it is nevertheless magnificent, historically significant and is well worth visiting.
Trump hails ‘big week’ for historic move; ‘Congratulations to all,’ he tweets ahead of May 14 opening
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gives a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 11, 2018, ahead of its opening on May 14 (Screenshot)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday gave a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.
“We are so excited,” Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”
‘Next time in Jerusalem,’ jubilant Barzilai yells after victory; ‘Toy’ marks Israel’s 4th win; hundreds jump in Rabin Square fountain to celebrate; PM calls her ‘best ambassador’
Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Francisco LEONG)
Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the first time in two decades Saturday as singer Netta Barzilai clucked and bucked her way to the top of the international song contest with women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”
Backed up by three dancers, her trademark side buns featuring stripes of pink dyed hair to match her pink-and-black outfit, Barzilai busted her way through “Toy” on stage in Lisbon, Portugal, punctuating her singing with her trademark eye rolls and chicken dance moves
Quoted by US president one day, hosted by Russia’s president the next, PM is on a high, including in the polls. But will this encourage his more divisive tendencies?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Parade marking the 73th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
JTA — On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu began his week by meeting his Cypriot and Greek counterparts to finalize the commercial export to Europe of Israeli gas that he has pushed to exploit for about a decade.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from nuclear deal with Iran was widely seen as a coup for Israel’s prime minister, a fierce opponent of the deal.
The same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israel seized Iran’s archive of its military nuclear program in Tehran and spirited it to Israel, a video was posted of IDF soldiers singing Soltane Ghalbha, a traditional Persian love song – in Persian.
Taken together, the two events demonstrate the purpose of Netanyahu’s presentation.
Netanyahu’s detractors in the US and Israel called his presentation as a dog and pony show. “He didn’t tell us anything we haven’t known for years,” they sniffed.
Moreover, they insisted, Netanyahu’s presentation was actually counterproductive because he couldn’t show evidence that Iran is in breach of the nuclear deal it concluded in 2015 and so did nothing to persuade the Europeans to abandon the deal.
While US policy-makers are trying desperately to stabilize Afghanistan, a shift is being orchestrated by China.
The Chinese evidently see their role in Afghanistan as the “good cop” versus the U.S. role as “bad cop.” Like Pakistan, China seems to view the Taliban as the political opposition, not as a terrorist organization, and has offered itself as an intermediary to negotiate the departure of the U.S. and, thereby, be in a position to reap the economic and geopolitical benefits of Afghanistan as a client state of the China-Pakistan alliance.
Reuters/Ipsos set a new standard this week when it condemned its own polling as unreliably favorable to the president.
“This week’s Reuters/Ipsos Core Political release presents something of an outlier of our trend,” stated a paragraph that appeared before the press release on its latest polling even began.
“Every series of polls has the occasional outlier, and in our opinion, this is one. So, while we are reporting the findings in the interest of transparency, we will not be announcing the start of a new trend until we have more data to validate this pattern.”
For the sixth Friday in a row, protestors from Gaza came to Israel’s border with intentions to penetrate it. They come with scissors to cut through the fence, with burning tires, Molotov cocktails, slingshots with rocks, and kites with firebombs attached to them to destroy Israeli farmlands and villages.
This is not some peaceful demonstration akin to Selma in the 1960s when blacks were simply trying to sit together with whites at a lunch counter. The usage of the word “demonstrators” is a misnomer; these are “rioters.”
What would happen if the world took Pope Francis’ advice (via a tweet)? “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war,” said the pontiff.
While on the surface, the disappearance of all weapons might suggest the inability to do violence, in reality, it would mean the certain annihilation of the West as a civilization.
When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police after two black men refused to leave, the chain of events ended with the burnt taste of the overpriced coffee chain colluding with anti-Semitism.
Starbucks reacted to the brief arrest by blaming the police, but Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is African-American, initially said that his officers, “did absolutely nothing wrong”. But then he was forced to offer a bewildering apology to the arrested men, the officers and the entire city.
“It is me who in large part made most of the situation worse than it was,” he announced.
“Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and you will dwell securely in your land” (Vayikra 26:5).
This blessing is promised to the People of Israel on condition that, as a unified nation, they observe the laws of the Torah and live by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The first season, when produce is brought to the threshing floor, will last until the days of the grape harvest, which in turn will continue into the planting season.