Visiting a 2000 Year Old Village

Moshe Friedman

At Katzrin there is a reconstruction of a Jewish village from Mishnaic times. To get there, drive along Road 90 heading north. From Rosh Pina, continue for 3 kilometers to Zomet Machanayim, Continue on this road 15 kilometers and pass Mishmar HaYarden on your left as you drive through the Hula Valley. Now you are heading northeast, crossing from the Galilee to the Golan Heights. The Hula Valley and Jordan River divide the two. Cross the Jordan River over Gesher Banot Yaacov.

Drive up the hill and turn right, past a former Syrian outpost on your left (north). In Arabic this is called "Mirtafa A-Dirijat". From this position the Syrians shelled Kibbutz Gadot between 1949-1967 over 400 times! You can still see remains of the Syrian bunkers from the road on our left as you drive along the road. In October 1973, the Syrian army advanced almost to Gesher Banot Yaakov before stopping.

Pass the monument to Kibbutz Gadot and the Golan Brigade (not to be confused with the Golani Brigade), on the left. Shortly after, before turning left (north), you will see on the left the remains of a scarred two story building. This is Beit HaMeches, the former French Customs house that served as the border between French controlled Northern Israel and the rest of Israel under the British until 1923. Stay on Road 91 and pass the red and black memorial to the I.D.F. Artillery Brigade from the Yom Kippur War until Zomet Nachsot.

Now turn right (southeast), until the town of Katzrin and pass the modern town on your right. Follow the sign to the Ancient Talmudic Park. Leave your car in the parking lot and you will see across from the stairs at the entrance, a stone from an olive press dating from Mishnaic times. There is an entrance fee to this site, but it is well worth it.

Inside you will see a reconstructed olive press. The olives were harvested by hand when they were still green because black olives do not produce quality oil. The olives were placed in the stone tub on the right called the yam. They were crushed by the large upright stone called a memel. The stone was usually turned by an animal. If a person committed a crime (like letting his animals graze in somebody else's fields) the Elders could deem as punishment that the offender be sentenced to turn the stone wheel. This was known as avoda para. At this point the crushed olives were gathered up by hand and put into flat palm-frond baskets called ekel, then piled up on the press.

The initial oil that flowed from these baskets was called shemen zach, which was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. The wooden screw (which identifies this press from the Talmudic period) was turned to apply pressure to squeeze out the oil. The liquid which ran down was gathered in a pot and did not run into the hole underneath the press. The liquid is dark and does not look like the clear oil with which we are familiar. The oil is then set aside for up to ten days to allow all sediments to settle. This is called the cold-pressed method. Today faster methods are used, like centrifugal machines or adding water to the oil causing the oil to rise to the top and allowing the sediments to sink quicker.

The staff at this site speak English and are very helpful. There are also short movies about the Talmudic period and about the Golan Heights. With planning, you can make olive oil, turn wool into yarn, squeeze grapes for wine, grind wheat into flour, and make pita and zhattar. This trip can be done year round and is suitable for all age groups.

Reprinted from "Ascent Quarterly" #47. Based on an article in "Safed Western Settlers Newsletter." Moshe Friedman is a certified tour guide and medic. Email: friedman@kinneret.co.il; cell phone: 050-417651.

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