By: Joan Gross
Peik’in Synagogue: “The current structure dates from 1873 and is said to have been built on a site of an ancient synagogue dating from the era of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, around the 3rd-4th century CE….Margalit Zinati is a member of an ancient Jewish family who have lived for centuries in Peki’in, reputedly since the time of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago.”*
We were curious. It wasn’t far if you have a car but definitely inconvenient if you don’t. Mick researched the bus schedules and found that there was a bus leaving at 12:30pm and returning at 3:15pm. It claims that 40 minutes will get us there.
We took a bus to the center of town, picked up some borekas (we knew we would not find kosher food in this Druze village), and headed to the bus station for the #44 bus.
The bus goes to the twin cities of Maalot and Tarshisha and then to Peiki’in. It doesn’t make just one stop in Maalot though, it meanders through the entire town. Although I had been to Maalot before, it previously escaped me that there are at least three sculptures on every block. Most were three dimensional, modern stone carvings. They share space with one-dimensional black silhouettes of such subjects such as sheep, grazing around fountains.
More interesting were the people that got on the bus as we progressed to the Druze village of Peiki’in: Religious Jews; soldiers; an old woman wearing a black dress with a white scarf wrapped around her head, drawn across her mouth and flowing down her back; and gum chewing, jean-wearing youngsters.
The bus climbed up and went into Peiki’in and was leaving and we hadn’t gotten off but then neither had most of the other passengers. We knew that Peiki’in was the last stop but we were stunned into inaction. The bus then went up another incline and entered another hilltop sign with a sign that said “Peiki’in” and we got off along with every one else. Whew.
The village colorfully spills down the mountaintop. We were almost at the highest point and the vistas captured between the buildings were captivating.
We stepped into a shop where a woman was offering samples of her homemade creams and touting the family’s homemade soaps. With over 60,000 visitors to Peiki’in every year, this woman must be repeating her sales pitch in her dreams…or nightmares…but she was very gracious and helpful so we purchased two bars of soap for $5 each. I will have to check if the soap has a silver interior.
The woman directed us to the synagogue and we set off.
When we got off the main road, the streets were so narrow that we wondered what would happen if two cars came in opposite directions. We didn’t wonder long. They DoSaDo’ed around each other until one managed to back up his car until it was half off the road in one of those few places where he wouldn’t hit a house.
After wandering through very narrow streets and trying to figure out the direction of the synagogue sign which pointed upwards and right, we found ourselves in a square. The middle of the square has a spring-fed fountain and towering over the fountain was a statue of a majestic man with his sword thrust into the air and a smaller man in a business suit. Mr. Wickipedia informs me that:
The square contained a 250-year-old-olive tree with netting under the branches so that the leaves would not fall into the square or the fountain, two stores and a restaurant. We thought that the synagogue was in the alleyway behind the restaurant, but it was locked. The woman at the restaurant assured us that it would open soon and insisted that we have a coffee. We did. In fact we did everything that tourists do: Mick took my photo under the tree, I took his photo in the street, we dawdled over our coffee, which was amazingly good, strong with lots of shredded cardamom. I knew it was shredded because I was pulling it out of my teeth for two days.
As Mick sat in the restaurant, where time was so irrelevant, that I wondered if I had sat there with Mick once before in another life, drinking the same coffee, and recklessly teasing each other.
I went into the store next door. It seems that there must have been huge overruns of white stuffed teddy bears because we saw them in every store and this store was no exception.
I purchased a pretty pair of earrings for $5 and then the woman tried to get me to purchase the same soap that was secreted in my purse, but for 5 shekels more. When I told her that I had no more money, she hastened to tell us that her son would walk us to the synagogue. It wasn’t behind the restaurant but several blocks away, through an alleyway that looked private and up a steep alley. We would have never found it by ourselves. Her son is bright chatty and very curious about the outside world. He got us there, by coincidence, at exactly at the right time. In our rush to get to the unknown we hadn’t realized that the synagogue was open only by appointment since few Jews now live in this Druze village. A tour had arrived, they had just come from the cave that Shimon Bar Yochai and his son had inhabited for 13 years and were now saying the afternoon prayers. Mick went inside to daven with the men and I pulled out my Ipad, found the afternoon services in my prayer app and spoke to God from outside.
We learned that “In 1926 and 1930 two old stone tablets dating from the Second Temple period were uncovered at the synagogue. One depicts a menorah, shofar and lulav and the second depicts a gateway with columns on each side, probably symbolising the gateway to the Holy of Holies.*”
After the men finished praying, we went across the alleyway where lots of women were mingling. It turned out that both the men and women had just finished attending a two hour lecture from Ms. Zinati about the history of the area.
I spoke to one of the visitors who told me more history about the area, and about herself, and then we rushed back to the center of town to catch the bus.
Forty minutes later we were back in the twenty-first century.