Photo Credit: Yaakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF photo archive
The Golan Trail from Daliot parking lot to Rehavam arches.

Chairwoman of KKL-JNF Ifat Ovadia Luski wrote us: “From north to south, the Land of Israel is filled with pieces of ancient Jewish history. The ancient synagogues tell the Jewish story spanning thousands of years – about vibrant culture, community, and our ancestors who lived here centuries and millennia ago. I invite the public to come and learn about the story through the trails and sites offered by KKL-JNF. The summer months provide a great opportunity to combine a trip with Jewish heritage and rich history.”

So, without further ado, here are the ancient synagogues Ms. Luski recommends:


The Ancient Synagogue in Ma’on

We don’t know the exact date, but it is clear that around 1,500 years ago, the Jewish community of Ma’on stood in this place and built their synagogue.

It was not an independent settlement; it was under Byzantine Christian rule at that time in the land. Nevertheless, the Jewish community of Ma’on, like the Jewish population throughout the land, did not give up their religious independence. The most important expression of their independence was the synagogue, which left behind its magnificent mosaic floor.

The synagogue was discovered in 1957 during the construction of the access road to Kibbutz Nir Oz. Due to unsuitable conditions for displaying the mosaic at its original location, it was removed from the site and preserved in the storerooms of the Antiquities Authority. Recently, KKL-JNF dedicated Sandy Glatt’s contribution to restoring the floor of the synagogue and returning it to its original place. Now, a new shelter protects the site and the mosaic, which has been restored and preserved by the Conservation Department of the Antiquities Authority in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. The Eshkol Regional Council also participated in the restoration of the mosaic to its original location.

The Ancient Synagogue in Ma’on. / Yaakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF photo archive.

The Ma’on Synagogue

The town known as Ma’on is mentioned already in the late Roman period and the Byzantine period as one of the bordering villages on the southern line of the country (“Limes Palaestinae”). According to inscriptions, a cavalry unit from Illyria, located in the western Balkans, was stationed in Ma’on.

In the Byzantine period (5th to 7th centuries CE), the entire district was called Ma’on – Manois. It was a large town, and most of its inhabitants were Christians. The synagogue discovered at the site testifies that Jews also lived in the city.

Ma’on – Manois was a large town, and most of its inhabitants were Christians. The synagogue discovered at the site testifies that Jews also lived in the city.

The synagogue faces northeast, towards Jerusalem. It is located in the center of an infrastructure center that includes courtyards and water wells. Part of the water collection system and wells, which also included a ritual bath, has been restored and is displayed south of the shelter. The walls of the synagogue were built with rectangular stones placed on stone foundations.

The synagogue had two stages in its history. It seems to have been established in the second half of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century CE. In the second stage, in the middle of the 6th century CE, the northern wall of the hall was breached, and a round apse was built in its place, protruding outward. A new floor was placed over the old mosaic floor, which is what we see today. The mosaic, measuring 7.80 meters in length and 3.70 meters in width, is one of the most beautiful mosaics in the ancient synagogues of Israel.

The mosaic floor depicts a vine growing from a pitcher located at the edge of the floor. The vine branches form 11 rows of five medallions, depicting animals, birds, and mammals. The Jewish symbols are concentrated on the side of the mosaic near the bimah, and they include a seven-branched menorah standing on three legs and adorned with etrogim (citrons). It also depicts shofar, lulav (palm branch), date palm trees, and lions. A pair of doves is depicted on both sides of each date palm tree.

The synagogue was destroyed and abandoned at the beginning of the Arab period (8th century CE). It seems that the abandonment was not due to violent events but as part of the economic decline that characterized the Arab period in the Negev.

The Ancient Synagogue in Ma’on. / Yaakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF photo archive

Park Adulam – Horvat ‘Ethri

Adullam-France Park is an open space that combines nature, agriculture, and historical sites. It is an area of round and low hills covered mostly with Mediterranean woodland. The valleys between the hills have been cultivated for hundreds and thousands of years, mainly for wheat and vineyards. In winter and spring, the hills are covered with colorful blossoms. KKL-JNF has built hiking and cycling trails in the park and initiated archaeological excavations of the historical sites in cooperation with the Antiquities Authority. Visitors can reach the main sites by private car on the paved roads. KKL-JNF created the park with the assistance of its friends in France.

Visiting Horvat ‘Ethri, which reveals the remains of an ancient Jewish village and hidden caves. As mentioned, the ruin is located within the boundaries of Adullam-France Park in the heart of the Judean Plain.

Horvat ‘Ethri / Yaakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF photo archive.

Horvat ‘Ethri is located on the top of a hill (406 meters). The Antiquities Authority conducted archaeological excavations at the site under the supervision of Dr. Boaz Zissu and Amir Ganor. Impressive remnants of a Jewish settlement from the Second Temple period were discovered here, which existed until the days of the Bar Kokhba revolt. Among the structures uncovered in the village were three Mikvehs, coins from the time of the Great Revolt, adorned oil lamps with traditional Jewish decorations, and numerous pottery vessels.

Note: Please bring a flashlight when visiting the stalactite cave and the underground system.

Horvat ‘Ethri / Yaakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF photo archive.

The Golan Trail: From Daliot Parking Lot to Keshetot Rehav’am

This route, starting at the special overnight parking lot created by KKL-JNF at Daliot Parking Lot, leads the hiker along a 10 km stretch of the Golan Trail and ends at the foot of Keshetot Rehav’am (Um El Kanatir). The Golan Trail continues south, crossing the Samakh Stream and ascending to Route 789, but we will head towards the spring and the remains of the ancient and fascinating synagogue that has been restored in recent days. And there is also flowing water…

The Golan Trail from Daliot parking lot to Rehavam arches. / Yaakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF photo archive

Ein HaKeshatot (Um El Kanatir)

The name of the spring, which is a translation of its Arabic name (Um El Kanatir), speaks for itself. The spring’s waters flow into reservoirs built under the shade of three magnificent stone arches, which were constructed in the Roman style. Today, only one complete arch and part of a second one remain. Such a monumental structure is suitable for a large and prosperous city, not for the small village that once existed here, whose true name has disappeared from our knowledge. So far, no convincing explanation has been found. Some believe that the place served as a factory for whitening linen garments, which was probably the main livelihood of the village’s inhabitants. Linen garments were considered highly valuable and expensive in ancient times, but their allure lay in the golden hue in which they were dyed. Those who wore white linen garments had a reason to be proud. The village’s residents possessed unique knowledge of linen whitening that enriched them greatly.

It is also possible that the abundant spring, located in front of the stunning landscape of the Samakh Stream and the Sea of Galilee, served as a place of worship for pagans who revered the forces of nature.

The place is now called Keshetot Rehav’am, named after Rehav’am Ze’evi (“Gandi”), who visited the site as Minister of Tourism in 2001, a few days before he was assassinated by terrorists. A paved trail with trees and benches leads to the ancient synagogue of the Jewish settlement that existed here during the Mishnah and Talmudic periods.

Due to the secluded location of the site, most of the stones from which the synagogue was built have remained in the area as a pile of large ruins. As early as the late 19th century, this pile of stones was identified as the remains of an ancient synagogue. In 1905, Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger excavated the site and extracted a plan of the synagogue. In 2003, the excavation and restoration project of the synagogue began under the leadership of Yehoshua Dreay (“Yeshu”) and archaeologists Ilana Goonen and Chaim Ben-David.

The synagogue is surrounded by a mourning fence, but it is still possible to appreciate it from the outside. The findings are impressive: The front of the synagogue and its intact entrance are almost completely preserved, as are significant portions of the other walls. The two columns of the central hall stand on their bases.

The highlight of the findings is the Holy Ark, an exquisite structure adjacent to the southern façade of the synagogue, facing Jerusalem. The Holy Ark, standing at a height of approximately 5 meters, has been almost completely preserved. The stage entrance is made as an arch supported by two decorated pilasters. On the side of each pilaster stands a pilaster capital adorned with geometric decorations and an eagle. A set of steps made of stone leads up to the stage, whose balustrades are adorned with magnificent reliefs depicting a grapevine emerging from an ampoule, arches, geometric decorations, and decorated clusters. At the top of each column stands a relief depicting a menorah. Decorations depicting Jewish symbols such as a pitcher, shofar, and the four species were also found.

The estimated date of the synagogue is the Byzantine period. The building was likely destroyed, presumably due to an earthquake or some engineering failure. The site also contains remains of houses from the abandoned Jewish village.


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