Monday, August 24, 2009

Minchah in the Golan

Last week we took a wonderful family trip with about 30 other families from Yad Binyamin to spend three days in the Golan. It was a great family trip - tiyyulim, hiking, seeing important sites, and even some time on the top of the Hermon. One particular point stands out in my mind.
On the first day we dropped our stuff off at the hotel and then rushed out to see the ruins of spectacular Beit Knesset. We parked and walked down a long path, climbed down even more steps and found ourselves at the ruins of a shul from a place called Um Al Kanatir (the Jews call it Keshet Rechavam) that was destroyed in an earthquake in 742. What was interesting about the shul is that because it was on the side of an obscure mountain, no one ever bothered to go back there, so all the stones were left lying in their places for over 1,300 years. Until Israel retook the Golan in 1967.
Sometime later - like 30 years later in 2003, an Israeli archeologist Yeshu Dray decided that he wanted to put the shul back together, which is exactly what he did until he ran out of money in 2008. He got pretty far. (You can see a lot of the work on his website.)
The shul is rather impressive. Looking at the quality and craftsmanship of the stonework, it's clear that the community invested a great deal of money in this shul. Just look at the pictures of some of the carvings. Mostly though, I found the idea that I was standing in a shul that was probably built sometime around the time of the Gemara or shortly afterwards mesmerizing. You can clearly see the structure of the shul, including the bimah facing south towards Yerushalayim.
We arrived just in time to daven minchah, which I led. As I davened, thoughts of nusach came to my mind. (There's a minor debate about which nusach our shul should daven, which is a rather common debate in Israel. Currently we daven Nusach Sefarad, although I've always davened Ashkenaz.) I wondered what nusach - what text - they prayed in that very shul. I thought of this because it was clear that the shul and community predated the existence of the Jewish communities in Ashkenaz (Germany) and Sefarad (Spain). That's not to say that they didn't fight in the shul about something. They probably didn't fight about the nusach. (Then again, who knows?)
Everyone knows that Israel and Syria remain in a state of war after the cease-fire following the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Syria maintains its claim to the entire Golan, all the way down to the banks of the Kinneret. Ignoring the incredible strategic and military value of the Golan, (which cannot and should not be ignored), it struck me that the Jewish people has a historic and powerful connection to the beautiful tract of land that looks out over Israel. It housed shuls and communities that dotted the landscape across the Golan.
The Golan should remain part of Israel not just because it's so vital to our security. It should eternally remain a part of Israel because it has been a part of our history and nation for many, many centuries.