When temperatures hit the 30s °C (that’s 80s-90s °F), it’s time to leave my air-conditioned, windowless library located two floors underground in the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem, and go touring.
This is how I found myself on an air-conditioned tour bus this past summer with former New Yorker and veteran tour guide Shalom Pollack, traveling through the southern Hevron hills, where the heat was in the low 40s °C (104-106 °F) in the shade!
Now that the weather has cooled off, come take a virtual tour with me, and discover the thriving communities of Moshav Carmel and Kibbutz Ma’On, with their shared dairy operation on the hill between them, and Reuta, the hesder yeshiva and beit medresh in Carmel for scholar-warriors (a hesder yeshiva is where Orthodox Jewish men commit to learning Torah for a period of time both before and after serving in the Israel Defense Forces; a beit medresh is a Torah study hall).
Also in Carmel, which is green during the rainy winter months when everything is in blossom, I toured the Herbs of Kedem organic botanicals herb farm, which creates and sells natural health and beauty care products.
Just a few kilometers away is the well-preserved biblical city of Susiya, with the impressive remains of a Jewish synagogue in use from the 4th through the 8th centuries CE. Jewish life was thriving in Susiya, two hundred years after the Bar Kochba Revolt and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. While most of the exiled Jews followed the Sanhedrin (Jewish Court) north to the communities of Tzippori and Tiberias, some went south in order to stay as close as possible to the holy city of Jerusalem. Susiya appears to have been home to some 3,000 Jews, over several generations (a Jewish cemetery has been found outside the city walls, as dictated by the Talmud). Most of the homes were built in underground caves, and drainage channels were built to accommodate the city’s 150 cisterns and over 35 mikvehs (ritual baths). A security wall around the city was augmented by underground escape tunnels, and there is still a large, heavy, wheel-shaped stone door there that could be rolled over the entrance to the synagogue in emergencies, as well as an escape tunnel inside the courtyard of the synagogue.
There is no evidence that anyone other than Jews ever lived in Susiya; surrounding this area, in the land formerly belonging to the tribe of Judah, taken over by Christians and Arabs (from the late Talmudic through the mid-Byzantine and into the early Arab eras), people lived in settlements.
What happened to the Jews of Susiya? They seem to have simply vanished from the landscape about 1,200 years ago, although there is no evidence of catastrophic events nor any evidence of conquering armies. Was there a drought and famine? A plague? No one knows.
For more photographs of Susiya, see the link:
For more information on the excavation of the synagogue at Susiya, see:
Gutman, S., Yeivin, Z., & Netzer, E. (1972). Excavations in the synagogue at Khirbet Susiya / חפירת בית-הכנסת בחורבת סוסיה. Qadmoniot: A Journal for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel and Bible Lands, 18(2), 47-52. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23666210 (in Hebrew)
Hachlili, R. (2013). Ancient synagogues-Archaeology and art : New discoveries and current research. Boston, MA: Brill. Retrieved from https://erms.tourolib.org/url/http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=658379&site=ehost-live&ebv=EB&ppid=pp_117
Negev, A., & Gibson, S. (2001). Archaeological encyclopedia of the Holy Land (Rev. and updat ed.). New York, NY: Continuum. Available (reference) at the Women’s Building and Boro Park-53rd branches.
Contributed by Aviva Adler, Librarian, Touro College Israel