No one was more surprised than the members of Kibbutz Heftzibah when they went out to dig an irrigation channel in 1928 and uncovered a stunning, Byzantine-era (6th-century) mosaic floor. Map.
Further excavation revealed the rest of the Beit Alpha Synagogue, whose extraordinarily mosaics are among the most evocative of ages past ever found in Israel. The three mosaic panels depict traditional Jewish symbols such as a Torah ark, two menorahs (seven-branched candelabras) and a shofar (ram’s horn) alongside a spectacular, 12-panel zodiac circle, a pagan element if there ever was one.
At the bottom, above inscriptions in Aramaic and Hebrew, Jacob (holding a knife) is shown about to sacrifice his son Isaac, alongside the ram that God (represented by a hand from heaven) sent to be sacrificed in the boy’s stead; each character is labelled in Hebrew. A 14-minute film (in six languages), projected above and onto the mosaic, provides an excellent introduction. Wheelchair accessible.
Up the hill from the synagogue, inside Kibbutz Heftzibah, is something unexpected: a lovely little Shinto-style Japanese garden (054 663 4348; tour adult/child 20/10NIS) with a serene koi pond, built by members of the Makoya, a Japanese Christian movement whose members have been studying Hebrew at the kibbutz since 1962. Call for a tour.