The sounds of silence

The sounds of silence

Ancient ampitheater rocks as Shalit returns home

The Shuni archaeological site was excavated and renovated by JNF in 1986. Located on the south end of the Carmel Mountains, the site includes a forest, recreation area, Roman pools, an amphitheater, a sculpture museum, an archaeological museum, the Shuni Fortress, and a camp and educational center.

Shuni Fortress, Israel – On the southern ridge of the Carmel Mountains, between Binyamina and Zichron Yaakov, stands a mysterious fortress hidden behind a protective wall at the entrance to Jabotinsky Park.

It is 5:30 a.m., as I turn into the narrow driveway and reach the locked barred gates of Shuni Fortress. A guard who was sleeping in a small booth nearby awakes to the sound of my car and opens the gates for me as sunrise approaches.

This is a very special morning during Sukkot. Rav Samal (Sgt. 1st Class) Gilad Shalit is coming home after five years in captivity, and a rare performance by the singer Marianne Faithfull is scheduled for this night of celebration in Israel. The British singer had known much pain in her own life and it seemed fitting that it was she who would perform this evening.

The sky is soon decorated in lilac-feathered clouds, as a majestic sun rises over the Mountains of Menashe. The dawning light paints the stairs of the amphitheater in pink and peach.

Marianne Faithfull and her ensemble gave an unforgettable performance.

Shuni dates back to talmudic times. It was renovated by Jewish National Fund in 1986.

Standing now at the very top row of this ancient Roman amphitheatre listening to the silent sounds of the past, I try to imagine the music and performances played by the Romans here. What would they think about the music of Marianne Faithfull’s latest album, “Horses and High Heels,” which she has been promoting with an extensive tour since January? What would their music sound like to us, if only it could be excavated alongside the splendid sculpture of the sea god Neptune, as well as the gemstones, glass utensils, and medical instruments that are displayed at the archaeological museum on site.

As the pink and lilac streaks of sunrise give way to a glorious white sunshine, a team of stage hands arrive to set up the theatre for tonight’s historic performance.

Shuni fortress is identified with the village of Shumi mentioned in the Talmud. It survived the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, and the Ottoman Turks. Early in the 20th century, it masqueraded as an agricultural commune, but in reality was the chief training camp for the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, or Etzel, the underground militia that took a decidedly more violent approach to the British Mandate than the establishment-based Haganah. It is from here that Etzel launched its famed 1947 raid on the Acre prison, memorialized in the film “Exodus.”

The sounds of this ancient Roman rich men’s club, where entertainment was allegedly provided by naked swimmers bathing in a luxurious mosaic-covered Olympic swimming pool, has given way to very different sounds over the last two millennia. These include the sounds of bombs and gunfire, of acts of terror and pain. Some of these events have been illustrated in an audio-visual presentation at the Etzel Museum on site.

My morning walk ends at the Achiam Sculpture Museum located by the Olympic pool. Over 90 sculptures of biblical personalities, women and musicians. It is now after 10 a.m., and Shalit must be on his final journey home. The sound of suffering for him and his family has come to an end. While the celebration is heard all over the country, at Shuni it is the silence of the past that echoes.

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T-Slam performs “Strong Radio” with Izhar Ashdot.

It is after sunset and I have returned to the fortress. The place has been totally and magically transformed by festively colored stage lights. Over 1,300 people arrive for the performance. They are not disappointed. Throughout the evening, Marianne Faithfull and her ensemble put their heart into their music and touch us all with an unforgettable experience.

At one point, Faithfull dedicates her 1979 song “Broken English” to Gilad Shalit, after expressing her heartfelt greetings to a cheering audience. The song marked her return to performing after a hiatus of several years. Will its words – “It’s just an old war, not even a Cold War….What are you fighting for?” – have the same historic meaning for those who will come generations ahead? Can music make peace?

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It is now two nights later. I am back at Shuni to hear Israel’s renowned Rock ‘n’ Roll band of the 1990s, T-Slam, in a rare comeback performance that fills the amphitheater to capacity. T-Slam’s exuberant performance and heightened energies get the excited audience on their feet, and the song “Kama Tov Shebata Habaita” (How good it is to have you back home) was dedicated to Gilad Shalit, transforming the silent sound of wars and terror of Israel’s more recent history into a magical musical celebration of the present night.

Tovit Lore is a photographer and writer. The photographs of Shuni fortress seen here may be found on her website,

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