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.
The Hurva Synagogue is a historic synagogue on Hurva Square in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, whose extensive reconstruction was completed in March 2010. Construction on the Hurva Synagogue began under Rabbi Judah the Hassid in 1700 but ceased upon his death. Map.
The rabbi was a member of one of the first groups of Ashkenazi Jews to immigrate to Jerusalem, a few hundred from Poland. The failure of the Ashkenazi community to pay the debts incurred by the half-built synagogue led to the riots that resulted in their expulsion from Jerusalem in 1720.
The synagogue itself was destroyed in 1721, and the resulting desolate ruins (hurva) gave the synagogue its present name. The Hurva Synagogue was restarted under Ibrahim Pasha in 1836 and finally completed in 1856. Designed in a grand Neo-Byzantine style, it was one of the largest buildings in the Old City.
However, after less than a century in operation, the synagogue was destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion during the war of 1948. Conservation and investigation of the ruins began in 1977. Since the Israeli recapture of Jerusalem in 1967, many plans have been made for its rebuilding. In 2005, the Israeli government announced a plan to rebuild the synagogue in exactly the same form as before, assigning the project a budget of $6.2 million.
According to the Jewish Quarter Development Company, two-thirds of the cost was donated by the Ukrainian Jewish magnates Vadim Rabinovitch and Igor Kolomoisky. Construction took five years, and the restored Hurva Synagogue was dedicated on March 15, 2010.
The event prompted riots from Palestinians, some of whom held that the rededication signaled the Israelis’ intent to destroyed Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount and replace them with the Third Temple.
Beit Alfa National Park, boasts the remains of one of the most beautiful synagogue mosaic floors in Israel, dating from the early sixth century CE. Located on Kibbutz Heftziba in the eastern Jezreel Valley, the colorful folk-art style designs of the floor reveals the allegiance of the ancient congregation to Jewish tradition and their community, as well as its links with the wider culture of its day.
The old synagogue in Peki’in is located in the heart of a village that is one of the most charming and interesting in the country. High, high above the beautiful Bet Kerem Valley in Upper Galilee, the stone houses of Peki’in hug the steep hillsides, studded with pomegranates, olive trees and grape vines, and are home to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Map.