Surprise 86th birthday party for the guardian of Jewish Peki'in

Margalit Zinati, the only Jew left in a now-Druze town and the guardian of its ancient synagogue, celebrates her 86th birthday with hikers.

Ido Ben Porat,

Margalit Zinati's 86th birthday party
Margalit Zinati's 86th birthday party
Courtesy of Ritvo, Zinati House in Peki'in

Margalit Zinati of Peki'in, the "keeper of the spark" of the Jewish Zinati family, celebrated her 86th birthday this week.

Located in northern Israel, Peki'in today is a Druze town.

700 hikers who came to visit Peki'in's ancient synagogue and the gravesite of Zohar author Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai stopped to visit Zinati and hear stories about Peki'in's ancient Jewish community.

Everyone who visited the "Zinati house" celebrated Margalit's birthday with her, blessing her from the depths of their hearts to live "until 120!"

Afterwards, the visitors continued to the town's Visitors Center to see its moving displays. The Center was renovated with aid from the Jerusalem Center, and is run by the World Zionist Organization and the Zinati House.

Peki'in's ancient synagogue was built on the site of Rabbi Joshua the son of Hanina's study hall. Two tablets were discovered in the synagogue, dating back to the Second Temple period. The synagogue was renovated in 1873, and is currently under the auspices of the Zinati House, which protects and maintains it.

Margalit is the last member of the Zinati family who still lives in Peki'in. She tells her story to every group visiting the town, and received received honors from Israel's President, as well as Besheva's Jerusalem Prize.

"When the Holy Temple was destroyed, many of the Jews either went into exile or moved to the Galilee," Zinati told Besheva in an interview. "At first only Jews lived in Peki'in. Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, and Jewish Arabs arrived here five hundred years ago."

"Everyone prays according to his faith. On Simchat Torah, the Jews dance in the village with the Torah, and everyone celebrates and claps their hands. On holidays, we went to wish each other a happy holiday. On Passover, we would bring them matzah (unleavened bread). We all respected each other. We would play Five Stones (an ancient shepherds game, still together, chat, and burst out laughing. Even today, I have childhood friends in the village."

In 1938, the Jews' security situation worsened, and 50 of Peki'in's Jews were forced to leave their homes. The Zinati family left with all the other Jews, and moved to Hadera.

"The criminals wanted to kill my father," she said. "They threatened to murder him in public. They said he was a waste of a bullet and prepared a bonfire and kerosene to burn him. But my Muslim neighbor intervened, saving my father's life at the last moment."

"Because of the tense situation, the British authorities told all Jews to leave the village. We didn't have a choice. We left our home and moved to Hadera. It was really hard for my father to leave his house and his land."

The Jews of Peki'in, who were forced to leave their homes and belongings behind, called their move the "Hadera exile."Two years later, in 1940, a single family moved back to Peki'in - the Zinati family.

Since then, the Zinati family has lived alone in the village, without any other Jewish families.

"Of all the Jews, only we returned. They were just scared. We're not afraid of anyone. We fear only G-d above," she said.

Courtesy of Ritvo, the Zinati House in Peki'in