THE BIRYA FOREST, Israel – The ruins of an ancient synagogue in the Galilee, one of the earliest to have been discovered, have been excavated and restored in a joint project undertaken by the Jewish National Fund of Canada and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The ruins of Nevoraya synagogue. [Sheldon Kirshner photo]
Standing stolidly in a quiet forest clearing on the slope of a mountain north of Safed and close to Rosh Pina, the synagogue was originally built in the village of Nevoraya after the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 CE).
Believed to have been destroyed by an earthquake in 363 CE, it was rebuilt in 564 CE, as indicated by an inscription found at the site.
By all accounts, the synagogue continued to be in use until the eighth century.
More than 30 ancient synagogues have been discovered in the Galilee, according to the JNF.
Constructed during the Roman and Byzantine periods, they share a number of common features, including a rectangular design, interior columns and mosaic floors.
Despite the biblical injunction forbidding imagery, these buildings were decorated with figurative art portraying humans and animals.
French and German scholars in the 19th and early 20th centuries were the first to find the ruins of the Nevoraya synagogue.
Two American archeologists, Eric and Carole Meyers, conducted further excavations in 1980 and 1981.
In preparing the synagogue for viewing, the JNF constructed a gravel courtyard within the interior of the synagogue, a 60-metre path to the site, explanatory signs, ramps for disabled tourists and a parking lot for cars and buses.
Future development plans call for the restoration of the stone mezuzah and the holy ark, and the rebuilding of the walls.
Picnic tables will be placed in an adjacent forest grove.
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The Mishmar Hayarden recycled water reservior [Sheldon Kirshner photo]
In another JNF Canada project, the farmers of Kibbutz Mishmar HaYarden are irrigating their fruit orchards with recycled water from a wastewater reservoir.
Since Israel is already using 99 per cent of of its available water resources, recycled waste water is a necessity.
The reservoir has a capacity of 120,000 cubic metres, all taken from treated effluent generated by the kibbutz.
The water is used to irrigate apple, pear and nectarine orchards, as well as pomegranate shrubs.