Sunday, May 9, 2010

Roots in the Backyard

We spent the weekend at Mitch and Suzi Pilcer's Zippori Village. If you're into the Israeli B&B scene, you've probably heard of them, and if not, you should. They've been offering their fine hospitality since 1997, and they're constantly upgrading the facilities and the services. We've been going there from time to time for about ten years. (Another place we've returned to more than once is this place in Klil, but it's a very different sort of place. Smaller, and more rugged). The Pilcer's place is unusual on the B&B scene for the amount of thought they've given to make certain you get comfort, beauty, privacy, and quiet, yet it's also the kind of place you could easily come to with the enlarged family or a group of friends, since by now they've got 7 units on offer, and some of the units can accommodate entire clans.

So that's the advertising for today. More interesting to me, you won't be surprised, is the history. Mitch once told me his father was a Holocaust Survivor from Lodz. Since Lodz is a newish city, maybe 150 years old, his family must have come from elsewhere a generation or two earlier; like most Ashkenzi Jews, we didn't stay anywhere too long. (The Jews of Yemen or Baghdad were stable for more than a thousand years, until they were thrown out in 1948). Mitch himself was born in New York, came to Jerusalem as a young man and for a while even wrote in one of our local newspapers, then about 15 years ago finally settled with his young wife in a ramshackle farmhouse on the edge of Zippori.

Zippori - Sephorias - was an important Jewish town in the 2nd Temple era. A Christian tradition says it was town where Mary's parents lived, (It's about six miles north of Nazareth) and the crusaders built a castle in their honor which still stands on the top of a hill till this day. Archeologists have been digging there since the 1930s, and have found a wealth of fascinating structures, artifacts and mosaics.

In the 2nd and 3rd century CE Zippori was the seat of many of the Tanaim, the scholars of the mishnaic era; the most important of them was Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, also simply called Rebbi, the scholar who collected all the sayings of his forbears and and edited them into the corpus we know ever since as the Mishna.

The archeologists say there were Jews in Zippori for at least 1,300 years. After the Crusaders none were left, and in the 16th century it was settled by Arabs, who retained the Jewish name of the place.

In the war of 1948 the Arabs left. I don't know the details, and their neighbors in nearby Kfar Kana, not to mention Nazareth, didn't leave and are still there to this day. In 1949 two groups of Jews from Turkey and Bulgaria settled in the village; Mitch has a plaque honoring the Jewish family from Turkey who first settled on his farm. About a mile away there's a plaque commemorating two settlers who were murdered on the eve of the Seder in 1951. Within a few years most of these settlers left, to be replaced by Jews from Romania, some of whom are still there.

Mitch also has a small memorial on the grounds of his little village commemorating Yaniv Temerson, a local boy who used to work summers at his place, before going off to the army; in the summer of 2006 he was killed commanding a tank in Lebanon.

Then, a year or two ago, while digging around on the grounds in preparation for some new development, Mitch came across a large stone with an ancient inscription - which however he was able to read, since it was in Hebrew. It told that this was the resting place of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levy. Rabbi Yehoshua isn't as famous as Rabbi Yehuda, but he's pretty well known if you're familiar with the Talmud, where he is often cited. Mitch called in the professionals, who identified six graves in the cave, before taking the inscribed stone off to be analyzed. Mitch told me he's confident it will be brought back soon, and put back where it belongs and has stood for almost two thousand years (where the white frame is in the picture).
Zippori, it turns out, really is more "home" than anything Poland ever had to offer, in spite of the price.


Anonymous said...

"which however he was able to read, since it was in Hebrew."

wow!!! - how cheeky to "hide" a gem like that in a half sentence ...
for most of us non-expert Germans problems start with Fraktur let alone Sütterlin
- earlier writing, even though I might make sense of it when transcribed is hopeless

Bryan said...

To be fair, the reason he could read Mishnaic Hebrew is because Modern Hebrew was designed using Tanakhic and Mishnaic Hebrew as a lexical and grammatical base.

German, on the other hand, was not recently resurrected off of an ancient literary base, and thus the gradual evolution of German has taken it farther away from its linguistic roots than Hebrew has.

It would have been an interesting case study if the Greek national movement had chosen ancient literary Greek as its national language--as the Zionists did in Israel--instead of vulgar Greek. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

the Greeks tried exactly what you wanted for them

in 1976 there were still 2 languages
Dhimotiki which was spoken in daily life
Katharevusa which was a kind of official language, the extent of use of which I am not sure off but it was used by the notary public who took care of my work permit

and it was claimed that a lot of what kids "read" in the afternoon as home-work was Homer so presumably close to Katharevusa. (reading in Dhimotiki was synonym with learning by heart and judging from the din during siesta-time kids were still required to do a lot of it at the time) - I think they gave up Katharevusa shortly after 1976 - from a practical point of view I'd love to know how the legal profession with its peculiar use of language coped. Also I'd guess that not all (if any) of what the (male) congregation chants during service will have been adopted.