Galilee, Present and Past

Our morning began with a visit with 8th Grade English students at Segev School in the Karmiel-Misgav area, Pittsburgh’s Partnership region in Israel. After a tour of their beautiful wooded campus in the Lower Galilee and playing an ice-breaker game, the universal languages of all teenagers (Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram) filled any gaps in our Hebrew and their English.

We then took a short hike into the forest surrounding their school, where we played water balloon toss and other games and also kindled a fire to cook fresh pita on a “Saj,” topping our bread with chocolate spread or za’atar.  It was the perfect way to better get to know our Israeli friends, who will join us for our adventures in the Golan Heights tomorrow. Thank you to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh for building and supporting our relationship with the Partnership region.

From present-day Misgav, we traveled back about 1,800 years ago to the time and place where the Mishnah was compiled by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (Judah the Prince). At Kfar Kedem, they recreate the way of life of our Jewish ancestors in the Galilee, teaching visitors how ancient peoples worked the land and some wisdom of our second-century sages. The donkey rides, pita-making (again!), and delicious “Hafla” lunch are an annual CDS Israel trip favorite, and this year didn’t disappoint. And don’t forget the practically required souvenir…a T-shirt that reads: “Do It On A Donkey!” Mr. Steinberg even stumbled across the “jawbone of an ass,” which he plans to bring home to Pittsburgh.

First, we had to dress the part …  

Then it was time to board our donkeys … 

We next headed to Tzippori, an ancient city in the lower Galilee where the highest Jewish religious court (Sanhedrin) was once located and Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (who wrote the Mishna in 220 CE) also lived. Tzippori is a national park that is famous for its exquisite mosaic floors that date back to Roman times. We saw the Nile house from the 5th century, with an intricate mosaic floor depicting water rituals, such as flooding and measuring the waters of the river.

Inside a Roman villa, a mosaic floor portrays stories about Dionysus, the god of wine, and the center of the mosaic features the “Mona Lisa of the Galiel,” a woman’s face crafted from 500 stone tiles, whose ethereal eyes appear to follow you no matter where you stand in the room. Eitan challenged us each to find and explain a story depicted in this stunning work of art miraculously preserved for centuries. He told us the house certainly belonged to someone very important because it had…a toilet!

Finally, we saw a 1,600-year-old synagogue, complete with a bimah and mosaic floor featuring a zodiac with Hebrew months, a scene of angels visiting Sarah and Abraham, and the binding of Isaac. We talked about what it meant for Jews to maintain their traditions in Roman times in Tzippori, where Jews and pagans lived together in peace, comparing it to present-day diaspora Jewry.

Some highlights of the day:

  • “Meeting with the Misgav kids. I met two kids who were coming to EKC, and I showed them the EKC handshake.”
  • “Also meeting with the Israelis. I got to speak to a lot of them in Hebrew, and that was really fun.”
  • “I really enjoyed making pita and roasting marshmallows with the kids from Karmiel/Misgav.”
  • “I liked meeting kids from Karmiel today because we have so much in common even though we live in different countries.”
  • “I am excited to build friendships with my Israeli friends and I learned a lot today.”
  • “I liked riding the donkeys and dressing up like I was from 70 CE.”
  • “I liked meeting all those kids…they are all super kind. And I also really liked the mosaics, and then Eitan said they were like 2,000 years old, and I just thought that was really cool.”
  • “I like how we had a little of the past and the present today. I liked feeling like we were in ancient times and going to the shul and talking to the Israeli kids.”
  • “A pretty big highlight of my day was my donkey ride with Ori.”
  • “I really liked meeting the Israelis because they were really nice, and they seemed to think I was OK, so I was like, ‘Score!'”
  • “I also liked riding the donkeys. I heard a lot of ‘Yalla’ today and for once it wasn’t for me.”
  • “My favorite part was the archeological dig…I just thought it was really cool when we found the wagon tracks.”
  • “Meeting the Israelis because I made a new friend, and she gave me a bunch of hugs before I left, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to be OK for high school!'”

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