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Galilee Diary: Back to Zippori

Galilee Diary: Back to Zippori

…At [Akko] also the inhabitants of Zippori of Galilee who (being sensible of the power of the Romans) were for peace with the Romans, received Vespasian, the Roman general, very kindly, and readily promised that they would assist him against their own countrymen. -Josephus, Wars of the Jews 3:2:4

Recently we had the first warm, sunny, dry Friday in months, to which I had been looking forward so I could attack the waist-high weeds that have overwhelmed the garden during the winter. But I had gotten an invitation to the dedication of a newly opened section of the ancient water works at Zippori, and though I don't love public ceremonies, it seemed a shame to skip it, especially in view of the weather. Our seminar center at Shorashim has been involved with Zippori since it opened as national park almost twenty years ago (it is a 30 minute drive from here). We have done study tours, published a family activity book, produced "living history" simulations, conducted interactive seminars and field days for kids and adults – we have spent hours and days there, and feel very attached to the beauty of the place, to the richness of its history and archaeology, and to the park maintenance and education staff, who are a kind of proud family, who love the place they are responsible for. So I let the weeds wait (which, alas, they did).

Zippori was a prominent city during the Roman period, a regional capital, and became a major center of Jewish culture, especially after the Bar Kochba revolt forced Jewish life out of the center of the country. The Sanhedrin sat in Zippori around 200 CE, and this is where Rabbi Judah Hanasi permitted and supervised the codification of the Oral Law into the Mishnah. The city was well preserved in its decline, and each season of excavations yields amazing finds. The site is especially well known for its magnificent mosaic floors – both Jewish and pagan. Another of its claims to fame is its water works: an aqueduct brought water from springs several miles away to a million-gallon underground reservoir, from where it passed in a controlled flow through a pipe, then a tunnel, then an aqueduct to downtown Zippori. The reservoir has been an attraction since the park opened, but the tunnel was a bigger challenge to prepare for visitors, and the first section has only now been opened. It is indeed impressive. Bring a flashlight.

There were about a hundred people eating hors d'oeuvres alongside the path to the tunnel entrance – tour guides, local politicians, employees of the National Parks Authority – waiting for the Minister of Environment (responsible for the National Parks) to arrive to open the proceedings. Minister Gilad Erdan finally arrived, and spoke briefly about the ministry's commitment to nature and to "heritage" – and thus the importance of sites like Zippori. The right wing parties that control the government have been very concerned with the question of "heritage" for the past several years, seeking educational and symbolic opportunities to attack the perceived weakening of the younger generation's knowledge of and attachment to the Jewish tradition and the land of Israel – be it out of universalism, post-Zionism, or just ignorance. A number of years ago we produced a teachers' conference at Zippori and I asked a prominent educator to help me market it. She was a member of a family well-known for its generations of activism on the Israeli political right. She said, "We have a problem with Zippori;" i.e., unlike the defenders of Metzada who committed suicide rather than be captured by the Romans, the denizens of Zippori surrendered to the Romans without a battle. I wonder if Minister Erdan, a Likud member, realized what the heritage was of the site he was dedicating…

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.

Published: 4/18/2012

Categories: Israel, Reform Judaism
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