As I wrote in my last blogpost, we’ve been spending the past two weeks of break from Ulpan taking fun daycations and getting to know our area better. This past week was a fun one! We had planned to visit four little villages directly to our north, right over the mountain from us. We only made it to one, because P’k’iin was just that interesting! The little town to the right of the picture is Rama. It’s mostly a mixture of Arab Christians, Druze, and Muslims, living peacefully together.
The history of P’k’iin goes back 2000 years. After the Jewish Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans, the Jews scattered like seed(Diaspora) into the world. Quite a few stayed in more remote parts of Israel, hiding, studying, and settling quietly. The people of P’k’iin were one such tiny community. The temple was destroyed, so the Jewish people would not have a place to return for the most sacred worship, but a story still continues that some of the Cohenim (priestly class) and their families escaped to the hard-to-access mountains and hidden valleys of the Upper Galilee region. They settled down as simple farmers working the land. A clue to their authenticity remains in two tablets and a few artifacts brought with them from Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple period.
The story veers off a bit with Rabbi Akiva, the great sage, who had a huge following before he was flayed alive as a martyr by the Romans at Caesaria in 135. His student, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (see Shavuout post), escaped the Romans and fled to P’k’iin. Still afraid for his life, he took his son into the caves above the village and hid out for 13 years studying Torah and laying the foundations for Kabbalah. They ate carobs and honey and were fed from a nearby mountain spring. After the threat had passed, they moved back down to the tiny hamlet. Then, during the Crusader times, it was sold as part of a land package including Akko, to the Teutonic Knights – we never did make it a few miles away to the Crusader fortress of Montfort. By the early 1500s, it had been conquered by the Ottoman Turks, but was still mostly Jewish colony subsisting on olives,figs, pomegranates, grapes, goats and goat products, and beekeeping. Because it is one of the few places in the area with naturally growing mulberry trees, and silk worm caterpillars eat the leaves, a thriving silk business existed also. By the 1800s, it still had a small Jewish population, but had also been settled by a larger percentage of Druze, with a few Christian sects. All lived well together.
In the early 1900s, the British had moved in, taking over local control from the Ottomans. Somehow, at this point marauding Arabs roamed the land stirring up trouble for newly arrived European Jews settling the land, as well as the local populations of ancient-stock Jews and Christians, mostly Eastern Rite Orthodox. Most of the Jews scattered for towns south, with the exception of one family, the Zinati’s. We met Margolit, now in her 80’s, but as spry as ever. She told us the story in an Arabic Hebrew (with translator) of how she, her parents, and her little brother were marched by the Muslim Arab rioters to the spring at the center of town. The chief of the gang did not want to waste a good bullet to kill him, so they decided to burn him in front of the family and townsfolk, instead. A Druze neighbor then bargained with the terrorist to spare the life of the Old Jew in trade for a lovely goat which would give milk, wool, and then meat. The Zinati family, after being brutally beaten, escaped with their lives to Hadera, South of Haifa on the coast. Many years later, only Margolit returned as an oath to her father to care for the synagogue. She never married, but remains today, still working the land and caring for the synagogue. She is the last remaining Jew from P’k’iin’s 2000 year history. When we met her she had just finished picking figs (I bought them all). She gave us a (priestly) blessing before we left her – with a promise to return regularly.
The history of the village is pictured today on the 100 Shekel note. After leaving Margot’s place, we decided to walk around the old mountain village. It remains much the same as it has for generations. I loved the way grapevines grew on rooftop pergolas. It provides shade from the summer heat as well as a tasty treat – and is a great decorative addition as well. The streets were so narrow, only one car could go through at a time – which was not a fun thing for John, who drove us to P’k’iin – with nerves of steel, I might add. Several people had set up tables with dried herbs, figs, home cured olives, olive oil, hand made soaps and old fashioned candles, along with random tchachkies. There was not much of a tourist population from what I saw, but the locals were very friendly to us. It was a peek into the past…
Two days later, we drove down South towards Beit Shean, a city near the Green Line just North of Samaria. It was pretty crazy passing signs with ancient Biblical names like En-Dor (Hey! That’s where the witch lived! The one King Saul consulted before his life was cursed!! Creepy!) and Mt. Tabor (Biblical claims to fame are where Deborah, Mother & Judge sat in counsel; and the site where later Jesus would be transfigured into glorious appearance in the presence of Peter, John – and Moses and Elijah – during the Festival of Sukkot.). We finally came to the foot of Mt. Gliboa, where Saul, Jonathan and many of the Israelite army were killed by the Philistines. It was the place where David cursed the mountain for the unbearable tragedy. Interestingly enough, it was quite bare when we got there, with the other surrounding mountains covered with low dense scrub brush. Hmmmmmm……..
At the bottom of Mt. Gliboa, in the fertile Emek Valley, lies a series of oases, Gan HaShalosha (Three Gardens), also known as Sachne. It is a most beautiful area, now a park, where you can rent a golf cart and drive around to each oasis. The natural pools are fed by the underground springs of the mountains. They are cool and clear, surrounded by date palms and lush vegetation. It is a prime swimming place for heat-weary Israelis. The pools are connected by a series of natural canals, also fed by the springs, and lined on each side with bullrushes. Families go inner-tubing down the streams, and I wanted to stop and “play Baby Moses in the reeds;” however, my teenage son and dear husband had long since outgrown the days of let’s pretend like. It was so much fun swimming in the pools. Families were barbecuing nearby, and the mood was lively and celebratory all-around. I must admit, it gave great opportunity for imagination – all those favorite Biblical characters who must have used this area for bathing and recreation lent itself quite vividly to meditation. All around the area were archaeological sites from pre-canaanite and Canaanite times. What a wonderful area! There’s just so much history here!
As seems the norm for us, we spent so much time touring the area and the two minor springs, we did not have time to see the main pool with the natural waterfall. I’m sure we’ll return, but in the meantime, the information can be found on the internet.
Last night, we decided to take an evening stroll in the neighborhood adjoining ours. The night was cool, with a delightful breeze, and everyone was out enjoying it. I love seeing elderly women sitting on park benches chatting in Hebrew and in Russian. Old couples holding hands, families on the various playgrounds, aerobics classes on the lawns, and teens enjoying games of basketball and our local skate park. The coolest thing by far, in the shadow of a series of five high-rise apartment buildings, we stumbled upon large Byzantine ruins. Between the skate park and the basketball courts!! In our home town!!! Wow!!! The moon was full, illuminating our find. There was a small town; a wine press, and steps leading down to a wine storage cellar. There was a tiny old Byzantine Church, almost 2000 years old, with mosaic floors and marble columns!! Adjacent to that, was an old monastery, the roof, by now flat, with grass growing on the top. Who knew? Can’t wait to go back tomorrow during the day to peek around some more, but nothing can recapture the magic of the scene bathed in the moonlight. This country is such a special place!!!
Another Wonderful Summer Surprise!