Last week my parents and I took a little drive over to the Biriya Forest with two main destinations in mind. However, due to the Galilee being absolutely filled with interesting things to see, the drive turned into a full-fledged day trip. Our first stop was the Shamaya and Avtalyon mikve (ritual bath) and we then turned eastward at Meron Junction and stopped at the roadside kever (grave) of R’ Benaiah the Amora and unnamed others who lived during the 200’s CE. We lit some memorial candles and had a quick prayer before continuing on with our “kever hopping” of Tannaim and Amoraim (Jewish sages from approximately 20 CE to 500 CE living in the Land of Israel and Babylonia). Our next stop was just around the bend at a trail entrance of Nachal Amud, the hillside kever of R’ Kruspedei the Amora (likely “ϰρασπδον” in Ancient Greek) who’s mentioned several times in the Zohar.
We then took the backwoods road to the agricultural community of Kadita, stopping off at the kever of R’ Yossi ben Ya’akov, one of the disciples of the great R’ Shimon bar Yochai. In fact, the domed room on the right is known as the Idra Zuta, where Rashbi taught his final Kabbalistic teachings to his students on his deathbed.
After more candle lighting and praying we got back in the car and continued to the kever of R’ Tarfon, one of the most famous Tannaim who lived in the era of Bar Kochba’s revolt against the Romans. Beside the stately grave is a huge wild pistachio tree known fondly as the “Tree of Mercy”.
Leaving Kadita and heading back to Road 89, we turned into the Biriya Forest at Ein Zeitim Junction. Once again leaving the main road, we found ourselves on one of the many scenic forest routes and paused for a quick look-see at Ein Gever spring.
Next we paused to admire the grove of pistachio trees in KKL-JNF’s Pistachia Valley, followed by the first of our main destinations: the Nevoraya Synagogue. Built sometime in the 100’s CE, the synagogue served the Jewish villagers on and off for some 600-700 years, with three known stages of construction. Discovered in 1861, the excavations began in 1905 and today the site was lovingly reconstructed and presented with informational plaques and even interactive activities.
At the bottom of the slope to the west we found the joined kever cave of R’ Eleazar of Modi’in and R’ Ya’akov of Nevoraya. Being the uncle of Bar Kochba, R’ Eleazar HaModa’i took part in the rebellion against the Roman governor Quintus Tineius Rufus and his troops at Beitar – however it is believed that Bar Kochba suspected his uncle’s allegiance and, subsequently, had R’ Eleazar killed (the tragic story can be read HERE on Wikipedia).
Leaving the cool burial cave we drove up the adjacent hill in search for an ancient lime kiln. We didn’t see it from the car, but found a nice lookout of Ein Nevoraya spring where the sounds of the frogs croaking below was surprisingly loud. I took a short video of the spring with the frogs that you can see HERE.
Descending the hill we stopped briefly at the spring where I just stood and took multitudes of photos of the multitudes of frogs.
From there we made a bee-line for Amuka, our second main destination. Home of the kever of R’ Yonaton ben Uziel, Amuka is famous for being the place where single adults come to pray for a spouse. So, I did that there.
On the way back home, so to speak, we stopped at the KKL-JNF Cedar Lookout and listened to the nice audio info station presentation describing the surrounding pine tree forest.
And, last but not least, a visit to the Biriya Fortress – a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time now. Back in 1945 Jewish settlers under the mantle of the Palmach took the mountaintop and built the fortress as a defence post and waystation for Jews immigrating from Syria. It wasn’t long before the British had a say in the matter and took the fortress from the Palmach. After a valiant attack/protest, the British relented and the fortress became a symbol of success and perseverance.
While we were there, a drama school was filming a little something about Nicanor and the Romans, and we had to scurry about from room to room – ending off with a grand view from the main tower of the outlaying Biriya Forest and even the Hula Valley far out in the distance.