After an extensive redevelopment, one of the most fascinating Byzantine era synagogues, Ein Keshatot, makes for a fascinating visit on a Holy Land tour. The ancient synagogue reopened about two years ago. It was discovered by Laurence Opipant, a Scottish Christian Zionist, at the end of the 19th century, who reportedly wrote “I see in the ruins of Um el-Kanatir the best of the discoveries that I have ever made”.
However, due to the remoteness of the site it wasn’t for another 120 years until the site was redeveloped and opened to the public.
During the excavation and reconstruction of the synagogue a special technology was used to record all the stones of the collapsed synagogue after which they were removed and then replaced into their original positions. A digital 3D scan of the collapsed stones aided in the analysis of the structure which possesses a beautifully carved, basalt ark for the Torah scrolls.
The stone complex was decorated with Temple motifs such as a menorah, a lulav (Palm branch), an etrog (citron, as well as a grapevine and other designs such as vultures (which were common in the area). The community was established in 150 CE but the construction of the synagogue occurred during the Byzantine period in 550 EC, about 500 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Byzantine Christians ruled the Land of Israel during this period. The rulers allowed the Jews to live their lives as they wished thought here were points that the relationship was hostile. The center of Jewish life during this period was in the Galilee, however, there are 30 ancient synagogues from the Byzantine period have been discovered in the Golan Heights, about 25% of all the synagogues from the same period in all of Israel.
Situated in the southern Golan Heights the synagogue is one of the most important Jewish sites in the area. It is located near the adjoining spring of Ein Keshatot, known in Arabic as Umm el-Kanatir (the Mother of Arches). It actually go its name from the local Bedouins who were impressed by the stone arches at the spring and called the village “Um el-Kanatir” which means, “site of the arches”. The impressive spring has two carved arches below which are fresh water springs.
Springs were always the center of life in the ancient community and they were used not only for drinking water but for washing clothes. Residue of fragments of flax were discovered in the water. Flax was the material used for robes to clothe the community’s wealthy population.
Two olive presses were also discovered at Ein Keshatot and they produced olive oil for the area.
The synagogue, was quite impressive in size and measured 18 meters long by 13 meters wide, and is believed to have been 12 meters high. Only one story of the synagogue was reconstructed so far.
Visitors to the site will view a short movie about the site. The area has been beautifully landscaped and preserved and it is a wonderful venue for special events such as a bar/bat mitzvah. There are many shaded areas and seating areas around the site as well as within the synagogue. It has been developed in a fully accessible manner as well.