You’ve made your generous donation. The synagogue construction has been completed. Your name has been inscribed in a dedication stone. You feel you have made a small mark in Jewish history. And as you take in the honor at the dedication ceremony, you wonder: Will people long remember?
A partial answer to this question has surfaced for the long-dead Jewish donors who dedicated an ancient synagogue in Peki’in, a town in the western Galilee.
This week, the Israeli Antiquities Authority reported that reconstruction work in an ancient synagogue revealed 1,800 year old Hebrew inscriptions on what had been the top of a pillar.
“These inscriptions will add an important tier to our knowledge about the Jewish settlement in the village of Peki’in during the Roman and Byzantine periods,” the Antiquities Authority’s Yoav Lerer said.
While the latest version of the synagogue dates only to 1873, it stands on the site of one that was toppled by the earthquake of 1837. Earlier archaeological finds found at the site include two 1,800-year old stone tablets likely to be from the ancient synagogue. One is engraved with a menorah, shofar, and lulav, and the second shows a Torah shrine.
The Talmud tells of a Jewish community in Peki’in, and says that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught there.
Restoration work has been underway to upgrade the visitor center in Peki’in’s ancient synagogue and nearby Beit Zinati for the last year. It will tell the story of the Jewish presence in the town over the last 2,000 years through the history of the Zinatis, the town’s oldest Jewish family. Margalit Zinati, the last member of the Zinati family, still lives in a house next door to the synagogue. She is the last Jewish resident of the town, which now is predominately Druze.
Oh, and about the ancient donors: Perhaps because an analysis of the inscription has not yet been formally published, their names were not announced by the Antiquities Authority. What a fleeing thing is fame.
Larry Yudelson & Israel21c.org