Today’s adventures landed us in the small, old moshav of Shavei Tzion, just minutes from Nahariya. We were headed for Regba, a shopping centre where we usually find clothes, and decided to visit the Mediterranean Sea briefly. We drove through Shavei Tzion and got out of the car to walk along the beach, pretty sure this was all we were going to do there. But we were wrong, we ended up finding all sorts of interesting things! But first, the beach:
To find the reported mosaic excavation which we had read about some months back, we had to leave the beach and ask around. After questioning a bunch of people, and getting wildly conflicting answers, we finally were pointed in the right direction. It was to be found along the beach, 100 metres or so from the waterline and just a little further north than where we parked originally. Returning to the beach, we walked along a very nice path, the sandy area blossoming with wildflowers:
At last we found the mosaic, a reconstruction of what once was a Byzantine church built some 1,500 years ago. The mosaics were uncovered and reconstructed in 1955 and to this day remain open and unguarded.
And there were other levels of the old church, apparently built in two stages, which were in a greater state of disrepair. Here is a photo, the weeds fighting for space among the tiny colourful stones:
After we picked through the wildflowers and examined the stone mosaics, we got back into the car and headed out of the moshav. On the way we stopped so that I could take a picture of Shavei Tzion’s first building – a guard tower, which is now used for storing local archives:
As I examined the building from the outside I saw an elderly man reading a piece of mail. I approached him and asked if the building was now a museum of sorts. He answered that the building now held the archives of the moshav and if I wanted, he could open it up and show me around. I had no idea what to expect but usually good things come to those inquisitive and patient so I waved the car over and introduced the old man, Uri Gefen, to my family. He opened one of the doors and showed us the old photographs and the old maps of the moshav. He explained to us that Shavei Tzion was founded by a group of Jews who fled from Rexingen, Germany during the turmoils of Europe in those days. The brave group established the collective moshav in 1938, just minutes away from another German settlement, that which is Nahariya. Uri Gefen went on to tell us how he came to Israel back in 1943. He was a child in Poland and when the Russians conquered his area, he and other children fled south to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. They then made it to Tehran, Iran and were therefore known as the “Tehran Children.” Leaving Iran they travelled the Indian Ocean until the made their way up the Red Sea and to the Suez Canal. From there they took a train through Sinai and made it to the Holy Land, safe and sound. In today’s world, such a long and winding journey would be ridiculous – after all, Israel just a flight or two away from everywhere!
Uri Gefen told us something fascinating that I must share. As I mentioned earlier, the Jewish settlers of Shavei Tzion were from the German city of Rexingen, they lived there for hundreds of years, among the local Christian population. During one of the Crusades, many of Rexingen’s Christians headed south to the Holy Land to free it from the hands of the Muslims, as everybody knows. Not every Crusader came back, many fell in battle and many left marks wherever they went. Fast-forward to the 20th Century when the Jewish inhabitants of Rexingen headed south to the Holy Land, to settle it, they found themselves in the Galil, an area much influenced by the Crusaders so many years ago. During excavations, the Jews previously of Rexingen found Crusader ruins and remains, and those Crusaders were from none other than Rexingen as well! “The finger of G-d,” said Uri Gefen. I’m inclined to agree.
After much talk we bid the helpful archiver farewell, thanking him over and over for his interesting insights into the history of Shavei Tzion. But before we left, we stopped at the old Bet Knesset (Synagogue) – a building duplicated from the settlers’ counterpart back in Germany. Sadly the door was locked… but redemption came in the words of an Arab cleaning woman. She told us where to find the keys and then reminded us that we needed to return them when we were done. We assured her we would and opened the synagogue. Here is what we saw, definitely of Germanic design:
It was an amazing little trip, from the raw beauty of the beach to the poignant stories from the archiver, but the clock was ticking and we had shopping to do. We got into our car and drove away… but as new people, with new thoughts and perspectives on the incredible miracles that have happened throughout the generations.