If anyone was thinking May was any less hectic than the two previous months – think again! Besides Independence Day, I had another study trip with Yad Yitzchak Ben Zvi (the last of the current season), appeared in two concerts with my choir and enjoyed a Lag B’Omer bonfire party.
On the political front, the seemingly interminable post-election coalition negotiations dragged out, eventually coming to nothing and a few nights ago, seconds before midnight, rather than hand the mandate to form a government back to the President, Prime Minister Netanyahu managed to get the Knesset, which was sworn in barely a month ago, to pass a bill dissolving itself and setting new elections for the middle of September. I am not going to go into all the ins and outs of who is responsible for the failure of the coalition negotiations and whether or not it was all a devious plot by Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman to bring down Bibi (Netanyahu), or whether the blame should be laid on the ultra-orthodox religious parties for opposing a bill which would finally see young ultra-orthodox men share in the burden of military service, together with their non-religious counterparts, or whether it is all down to Bibi trying to avoid being put on trial for alleged corruption, or whether….NO!
Whoever is responsible, it is going to cost the taxpayer millions of shekels and I am just ROYALLY PISSED OFF at the whole damn lot of them!
So, without further ado – let’s get back to some of the things which made this past month ENJOYABLE. I know many of you count on me to explain the political situation and so on, but – I really can’t talk/write about it now. It’s simply too FRUSTRATING. And the fact that we are in the throes of another sharav just makes it worse!
Not to mention the fact that I had to deal with yet another plumbing problem which involved taking up the tiles in my utility room (they still haven’t been put back). And finally – worst of all – my smart TV is on the blink and I can’t get a technician till next week!
Now, this final “tragedy”, I see as an exercise in character building. I can still watch some of my favourite series on the computer, and I have books that have been waiting on my shelves for far too long. And the disaster is greatly mitigated by the fact that the Great Breakdown only occurred AFTER I had seen the last episode of “Game of Thrones”.
Actually, this also leaves me with plenty of time now for blogging. 😉
So, where was I? Ah, yes! The last study trip of the season. And this time, we were in the south Hebron Hills.
We started the day with a lookout from Avigayil, named after Abigail the wife of Nabal, who lived in this region and about whom we can read in I Samuel 25. There she is described as the wife of Nabal, a wealthy man of Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel (not to be confused with Carmel which is in the north of Israel).
How do we know we are in the right place? That is easy, due to the fact that the Arab villages in the area preserved the names of the Israelite sites they occupied. In the Book of Joshua, chapter 15, we read about the inheritance of the tribe of Judah and its borders. Adjacent towns are grouped together and in verse 55, we read about the cities of Maon, Carmel, and Ziph, and Yuttah. Lying opposite our lookout point are the Arab villages of El-Kirmil, and Yatta. The archaeological site of Khirbet el-Kirmil lies some 5 km. south of present-day Yatta. Nearby, about 7 km. south of Hebron, lies another Arab village, Zif. Adjacent lies the archaeological site of Tel Zif. As we know from I Samuel 23, while he was on the run from King Saul, who sought to kill him, the future King David spent a great deal of time in the area around Ziph and the nearby wilderness of Maon. And, sure enough, not far away lies the present day Arab village of Ma’in. So we have all these Arab villages, with similar names to the Biblical towns, grouped together just as the Biblical towns were, plus archaeological remains. This is how archaeologists identify Biblical sites – archaeological remains plus preservation of names plus geographical appropriateness (such as topographical landmarks as described in the Bible, proximity of Arab villages with similar names to the ancient Biblical names, etc.)
It was to see some of these archaeological remains that we had come. The original intention had been to ascend the archaeological site of Tel Ma’on on foot, but the extreme temperatures that day made that unadvisable. Instead, we drove by bus to the site of ancient Sussiya, not far away.
Sussiya was the site of an ancient Jewish settlement on the south eastern fringes of the Hebron Hills, on the edge of the desert. It is not known for certain when it was founded but it reached its zenith in the Roman-Byzantine period and the Early Arab period.
Archaeological finds document the devotion of the Jewish inhabitants to Jewish religious law. These include over thirty mikva’ot, or ritual baths, attesting to the great importance attributed by the Jews of Sussiya to ritual purity and impurity laws, even after the destruction of the Temple. (The ritual baths are an integral part of the plan of the dwelling arrangement dating back to the 5th-8th centuries CE.) Some of these are large and were probably used by the whole community, while others are small and may have been private mikva’ot belonging to individual families – no doubt the wealthier ones.
Many of Sussiya’s dwelling places were, at least partially, underground. This afforded protection, both from nomadic, desert-dwelling marauders, and from the extreme heat.
Here is one of the dwelling-caves:
Pride of place, of course, goes to the synagogue. Like other synagogues unearthed in the south Hebron Hills region, in Eshtamoa, Anim and Maon, it has its entrance from the eastern side, since the northern side faces towards Jerusalem.
For this reason, unlike synagogues excavated in other parts of the country, one does not find pillars lining one’s right and left hand side, on entering the synagogue, since this would block off the view of the northern wall, containing the holy ark. Instead, there was a niche, with a platform in front of it, surrounded by a balustrade. The reconstructed platform is on display in the Israel Museum. What you see here is an exact copy.
The floor of the synagogue was decorated by elaborate mosaics, such as these:
As you can see in this latter picture, Jewish symbols, such as the seven – branched Menorah, are prominent. At the bottom of the right-hand Menorah, you can also make out a lulav together with an etrog.
The outside courtyard of the synagogue was surrounded by porticoes on three sides. In one of them, a mosaic inscription was uncovered, honouring Rabbi Isai the Priest:
Translated, it reads:
Remember for good the sanctity of my master and rabbi, Isai the priest, the honourable and venerable, who made this mosaic and plastered its walls with lime, which he donated at a feast of Rabbi Yochanan the priest, the venerable scribe, his son. Peace on Israel. Amen.
As you can see from this next picture, taken from the upper gallery of the synagogue facing out, the synagogue in Sussiya was built on top of a hill, in keeping with the Halacha (Jewish religious law) mentioned in the Tosefta: “They build them (i.e. synagogues – Ed.) only in the highest place in the town”.
From Sussiya, we proceeded to Anim. Here, too, like the other synagogues excavated in the south Hebron Hills area, the entrance is from the east, and the wall with the holy ark faces north, towards Jerusalem.
At some stage during the Muslim period, probably in the 7th or 8th century CE, the synagogue was converted into a mosque.
Before proceeding to my next topic, here is a short film I found on YouTube about the Anim archaeological site:
As I mentioned, in May, I also took part in two concerts. One of these was a concert given by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, at the Notre Dame Centre of Jerusalem. Here we gave a programme of evening and night-themed music, ranging from Ravel’s Nicolette, about a young girl who goes out to the meadows at dusk, where she is courted, in turn, by a wolf, a handsome young page and an ugly (but rich) old man, to Brahms’ In stille Nacht and from Villa Lobos’s Estrela e Lua Nova (about the new moon and the star-studded sky) through the night until the following sunrise, with the African-American spiritual My Lord, What a Mornin’.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the concert. First of all, a popular Israeli folk song about the shepherdesses drawing water for the flocks at even-tide:
And now, a fragment from In stiller Nacht (only the second verse, alas):
Just a few days later, I took part in the end-of-season Gala of the main Oratorio Choir, at which we performed Aharon Harlap’s Requiem together with selections from Haydn’s The Creation, with the Jerusalem Street Orchestra. Both concerts were conducted by Dor Magen. The theme of this second concert was “From Darkness to Light” (ie. from the darkness of death to the light of creation). Alas, I have – as yet – no videos of this concert, although it was professionally recorded and no doubt, in time, the DVD will be available, or the film will be posted on YouTube or on the Choir’s Faqcebook page. But here, in the meantime, is a link to a review of the concert.
Now, since today is Jerusalem Day – the anniversary of the reunification of Israel’s capital in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War – and I plan to celebrate, I will bid you Lehitra’ot (Au revoir, Auf Wiedersehen, Arrivederci, See You) till next time.