Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Mosque, a Synagogue, and a Church

My wife and I have traveled quite a bit in the Balkans and we enjoy learning about different cultures and seeing new places. Sometimes, though, the most beautiful places of all are right at your doorstep.

This past weekend, we vacationed in Israel's north, traveling around the Galilee and taking in the rolling hills, the pastures full of grazing cattle, the neat rows of vineyards, and the picturesque communities. We walked through the artist colony of Tzfat (the mystical city of Kabbalistic Judaism also known as Safed), and visited the renovated historic village of Rosh Pina.

We drove north, toward Israel's border with Lebanon. Here the scenery was even more beautiful, full of dark green forested valleys. We had never traveled these northern roads before and every turn exposed us to new vistas. Our journey on the cloudless October day would take us to see a mosque, a synagogue, and a church - three houses of worship quite unlike those we had seen in the past.

One of Israel's least-known minorities is the Circassians, a community of a few thousand Sunni Muslims whose origins are in the northern Caucasus. The Circassians live in two villages in Israel - Kfar Kama and Rehaniya. In addition to Hebrew, they speak Adyghe (a language of the Caucasus) and their written language uses the Cyrillic script.

Circassian men serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and the community has good relations with its Jewish neighbors.

We arrived in Rehaniya with hopes of visiting the Circassian Museum, to learn about the community and its heritage, but the museum's door was locked and there was no sign that it was regularly open to the public. That didn't stop us from walking through the village to see one of the most unique mosques in Israel.

The Circassian mosque in the village of Rehaniya

The mosque, more similar in appearance to a church than traditional Arab mosques, is built in the style of Circassian mosques in the Caucasus.

Bar'am National Park

The large, well-preserved synagogue at Bar'am National Park dates back to a thriving Jewish community that existed here in the fourth and fifth centuries. An Aramaic inscription found at the base of one of the windows indicates that the building was built by Elazar, son of Yodan.

The ancient synagogue at Bar'am

A second, smaller synagogue was located 300 meters away, but little is left of that structure. An inscription found carved into a lintel reads "Peace in this place and all of Israel. Yosef Halevi, son of Levi, made this lintel. May his deeds be blessed. Peace." This lintel is on display in the Louvre in Paris.

Before 1948, the area now contained inside the park was a Maronite Christian village by the name of Bir'am. The villagers were required to leave the area for security reasons when Israeli Defense Forces took control in October, 1948. Despite promises that the villagers would be allowed to return to Bir'am, the army destroyed the village. The only remaining structure is the Maronite church at the top of the hill, used on holidays and for special events.

The Maronite church at Bar'am

When we visited Bar'am, a service was taking place inside the church. We climbed to the structure's roof and surveyed the beautiful area. Nearby was Kibbutz Bar'am, and not far away were the hills and villages of Lebanon.

We left the park, ready to continue exploring more villages and towns in northern Israel.


  1. Awesome photos! It's great to get a glimpse of another country without the expensive of having to travel. Thank you for sharing.

  2. What great pics. I particularly enjoyed the photo of the ancient synagogue and your mention of the inscribed lintel. I love all things historical and this really made my day. Thanks for posting.

  3. Wow. Wouldn't you love to slip through time and experience a sermon in each one, see how they were similar and different in their own generation. Lovely.

  4. Hi Ellis Sounds like a very interesting trip. I had no idea there were Circassians living around there..

  5. Ellis, I appreciate that you share your travels. The way you write and the photographs you share paint a picture that makes one feel as if one has traveled along on the journey. Blessing to you and your whole family. Joy!

  6. Thanks for the wonderful tour Ellis! :)

  7. Agreed! Wonderful writing, history and pictures!