Daily Israel Report
More

Zion's Corner Blogs


Travel: Southern Hevron Hills

Travelling along the road of the Patriachs and exploring Susiya's ancient synagogue are some of the surprises that the Southern Hevron hills offer.
By Shalom Pollack
First Publish: 7/28/2009, 1:10 PM / Last Update: 7/30/2009, 11:07 PM

Courtesy, Susiya Tourism Center

Israel’s Southern Hevron Hills is one of the off-the-beaten track areas that I enjoy taking adventurous visitors to explore. The travelling along the road of the Patriachs and exploring Susiya's ancient synagogue are some of the surprises that the area offers.

As we drive south from Jerusalem passing through the very cradle of Jewish history and a series of rolling green hills along the path of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we resist the magnetic pull to stop at Gush Etzion or Hevron and continue south, fully cognizant that more Jews walked on this path than on any other road in history.

After passing the turn-off to Hevron, the rolling vineyards give way to another dimension to Israel. The rich vineyards and orchards become sparser as we gradually descend into a dryer and wider expanse. We are entering the border land of the Judean Desert.

The Southern Hevron hills stand as a sentinel facing east and the desert rolling downward towards the Dead Sea.

Here one can see the desert as far as the horizon. It is to this land suspended between civilization and wilderness that young David sought refuge from a jealous King Saul. Here he locked horns with Naval the Carmelite and met his wife-to-be, the wise and beautiful Abigail. We gaze on the very same hills and ravines where this drama took place and where the Bible truly comes to life.

We pass a new Jewish pioneer town called Carmel just where it was in ancient times. Talk about “the children returning to their borders”! It’s best to visit one of these villages unannounced. Invariably the residents are only too happy to answer questions and often invite us into their homes for a visit. I find that the smaller and more vulnerable the village, the more hospitable its residents are. There are a few tiny villages that I just love to bring unsuspecting visitors who can’t help but be affected, indeed bitten, by the spirit.

Susiya’s Jews Return to Ancient Town
We come to our destination, Susiya. Today Susiya is a thriving village that attracts students from all over Israel to its prestigious schools. Its field school is home base for those who come to study the region for a day or a month where they take their touring very seriously.

Aerial view of ancient Susiya
Courtesy, Susiya Tourism Center
 

Next to modern Susiya is the excavated ancient town of Susiya. In the centuries when Jews were banned from Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem and from the center of the country, Jews were forced to cling to an existence on the fringes - like the South Hevron hills.

A Star of David shadows Susiya's ancient synagogue
Courtesy, Susiya Tourism Center

Archaeologists recently unearthed an entire Jewish town dating to the times of the Talmud. At the site, you can view the remains of homes, ritual baths, guard walls and towers to warn of approaching bandits, wells, burial caves, underground work shops, and escape tunnels.

Mosaic floor at Susiya synagogue
Courtesy, Susiya Tourism Center

A synagogue is perched on the upper part of the town. Resplendent with an intricate weave of mosaic floors depicting Jewish symbols and Hebrew dedications and blessings, it was lovingly revealed by Israeli archeologists a few years ago. To think, a robust Jewish community lived right here where we trek. They prayed and conducted their business just where we stand. For hundreds of years, Jews clung to the place until the Moslem conquest and the final expulsion or forced conversion in the seventh century. And today we are back. What a country!

Mosaic dedication plaque at Susiya synagogue
Courtesy, Susiya Tourism Center

Shalom Pollack is a veteran Israel tour guide, who guides and plans tours for families and groups. He also writes and lectures on Israel and will be on a lecture tour in the US this coming October-November. Pollack recently produced a DVD, "Israel - Ancient Roots, Modern Miracle.” Clips can be seen on his website, www.shalompollacktours.co.il