Walking in a Byzantine-Era Synagogue

Bimah in Umm el-Kanatir Synagogue. Golan Heights. Israel.

The Bimah at the front of the Umm el-Kanatir Synagogue

Almost anyone who has traveled throughout the north of Israel, especially if you have gone with a tour guide who took you to places you might not have visited on your own, has seen the ruins of Byzantine-era synagogues. There are many, with some of the more famous or impressive ones found at Bar’am, Tiberias and Tzippori. But on a trip to the Golan Heights this past week, I had the pleasure of revisiting a very exciting Byzantine synagogue that I had first seen almost exactly a year ago.

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ONLY in Israel – Top 5

View Across the Dead Sea. Fun Joel Haber. Israel Tour Guide.

A View Over the Dead Sea from Mount Sodom

Frequently, you hear people comment “Only in Israel,” in response to various things they overhear or see here. Often, it is meant to try to capture some of the unique aspects of the character of the Israeli people. But as we all know, these things don’t only happen in Israel, even if they are somewhat demonstrative and capture the spirit of the country.

For that reason, however, I wanted to write a post about the things that you truly can only see in Israel. Nowhere else in the world. Tour guides typically speak in hyperbolic extremes. I know that I am certainly “guilty” of this at times. We’ll tell you how a spot is the highest, largest, newest or furthest south of its kind. But while those extremes may be interesting, and can be mildly significant, they rarely are very important. They are typically little more than gimmicks to maintain interest.

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Israel Mystery Photo #18

Israel Mystery Photo. Tour Guide Fun Joel Haber.

You Either Know This or You Don't. Period.

Firstly, I need to apologize about how long it has been since my last post. Been very busy, but that’s no excuse for neglecting you, my faithful readers. I’ll try to be better.

I’m happy that everyone who responded to the last Israel Mystery Photo correctly identified the location as Beit Shean. It means I accurately identified the photo as an easy one to figure out, and it also means that many of you have been to one of the more significant and impressive archaeological sites in Israel.

The current Mystery Photo will be a bit more difficult to identify. I don’t think anyone will be able to figure it out from context. Rather, I think it is going to be one of those pictures that you’ll identify if you’ve been there, and will have no clue if you haven’t. So don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize it.

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Israel Mystery Photo #9

Mystery Photo Israel tourism tour guide tourguide Fun Joel

Let's hear your guesses on this mystery photo!

Been a busy week for me, so I apologize for the delay on this Mystery Photo, but I hope that won’t ruin the momentum I’ve been building with these: more comments/guesses each week. Keep ’em coming gang! I love seeing your guesses on these!

I liked the responses to last week’s photo. A nice mix of correct answers, and almost correct answers. The picture was in fact from the baptistry of the Northern Church (more on that later) from the ancient Nabatean city of Avdat. Ilana was the first with the correct answer, and Aaron and Steven both got it right as well, with Steven giving the most complete and detailed answer. (By the way, for those who read Steven’s comment, stay tuned for a review post soon on the excellent materials from Biblical Backgrounds, his company.)

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Jerusalem’s Archaeological Surprises

archaeology, Malha, Malcha, Jerusalem, Israel, Middle Bronze, village, foundations

Malha Mall archaeological site -- a village from about 1800 BCE

Construction in Israel is always a difficult endeavor. In a country with as long a history as ours is, every time a spade or backhoe touches earth, there is the chance (or even the likelihood) that you will come across finds of archaeological significance. And when you do, construction grinds to a halt until the archaeologists can come in and examine the finds, determining whether they are significant, and whether construction can even continue there at all.

In recent years, building expansions have uncovered an ancient church at the site of a modern prison and an ancient cemetery near a hospital. In both cases, the building plans were halted until solutions could be found. Sometimes the archaeological site will be preserved at the location so people can see the finds in situ — where they were found, and construction will be abandoned. Other times, they will be covered and preserved underground, with the construction proceeding above the site. And sometimes the material will simply be removed and catalogued for later research.

I’ve recently visited a few of these types of sites, all within the boundaries of modern Jerusalem. It is yet another reason why I love living here. I am constantly surprised by the history and archaeology that you practically trip over every time you walk around this magnificent city.

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