Last of a Line

People tend to think that tomorrow will be like today.  It is very difficult to predict the end of an era unless there is a clear end point.  Most crises hit on random Tuesday afternoons when we are least expecting them; and just like that, one era finishes and we walk into the next.

gargiliusGargilius Antiquus certainly didn’t take the job of Roman Prefect of Judea knowing that he would be the last.  This life-long Roman politician was unknown in the history of Judea until January 2016.  While conducting an underwater archaeological expedition near Tel Dor on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, scientists found a Roman base which names  Gargilius as the Roman prefect of Judea.

Dor was an ancient city which stood on a small headland just north of a protected inlet on the Mediterranean.  The first Canaanites settled in Dor in the Bronze Age.  For the next 3000 years, this space would continue to be occupied.  It was under the influence of the Phoenicians during the Iron Age – one of a string of coastal towns.

During the 5th century B.C.E.,  an alliance between the Athenians and the Egyptians to protect their trade route saw Dor separated from the larger Phoenician centers to the north, to become a Greek outpost.  When the Romans took over the cities of Phoenicia, Dor was again included with them and absorbed into the province of Syria; it was not part of the province of the Jews, Judea.

At the end of the 1st century C.E., Dor was transferred to the Jewish province of Judea.  Could it be that the Jews fleeing revolt and destruction in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. settled in more far-flung places like Dor and made them more “Jewish”?

The statue base which was found at the bottom of the ancient harbor and its 7 lines of text provide a link between Judea, Gargilius and the office of Roman prefect.  Such a base could have helped to cement the inclusion of the city of Dor in Judea in the eyes of the population.  It is like a billboard which says, “Hey! You’re part of Judea now and Gargilius is your ruler.”

The period when Dor was under the Prefect of Judea was short-lived. After the Bar Cochva revolt in 135 C.E., Hadrian eliminated the prefects of Judea.  He changed the name of the region and absorbed the former province into the province of Syria.

There was no way for Gargilius Antiquus to know that he was to be the last prefect of Judea; and his forgettable reign  sank to the bottom of the sea, as did the recently found testament to his term.  Although Hadrian tried to erase Judea, even the sea brings forth signs of Judea, the land of the Jews.


Second Pressing

I always enjoyed learning how things work.  Especially things we take for granted.  There is that great TV show that takes us inside factories to see how things work.  When I took a 9 week cross country (US) trip with my family, we loved factory tours to see how they make all kinds of things from whistles to bears.  We also loved industry – our visit to the Hoover Dam was one of the highlights.

So it should be no surprise that even ancient “factories” catch my eye.  I love learning how things were made and how technologies improved, but usually didn’t really change all that much.
ramat hanadiv 1
I was out with a friend hiking in one of my favorite spots to go – Ramat HaNadiv Nature Reserve.  Ramat HaNadiv is located just south of Zichron Yaacov and is on the very southern tip of the Carmel Mountain.  Here, overlooking the agricultural fields, the fish ponds and the power plant, was built a farm, named by archeologists Hurvat Akev.  This farm dated from the Second Temple period and had a major renovation in the Byzantine era.  It was a massive compound with a guard tower, places for animals, mikvaot (Jewish ritual baths), cisterns, and an extensive agricultural center.

Today, we may look at this place and understand why people would want to live here – it is beautiful and has a gorgeous view.  But you need more than beautiful vistas to make an area desirable, especially in the past.  So, why is this farm here?  How could it be so successful to support such a large infrastructure?
ramat hanadiv 2
The answer can be found in the compound’s yard.  In a relatively small area, there is a threshing floor, a wine press and an olive press.  That’s like having 3 different factories all within your home!  These three – wheat, grapes, and olives – are the most important crops of the Levant.  It is very unusual to have so much different technology concentrated in one farm as the technologies are all different.

Wheat needs a high degree of processing before it becomes edible.  The wheat needs to be harvested and then winnowed.  This is usually done near the fields as so much of the wheat stalk is waste.

Olives were generally harvested in the fields and brought to a central processing facility.  Olives travel well so you don’t need to worry about them spoiling on the way and almost all of the olives were used, with the waste providing great organic fertilizer.

Grapes, like wheat, were harvested and processed in the fields.  But grapes were processed in the fields not because of the large percentage of waste, but because grapes are fragile and transporting them can interfere with the fermentation process.

We saw a Byzantine wine press with a depression which held a screw (this was the new technology of the day – increasing torque through use of a screw).  I have seen many screws used for olive oil production but was unfamiliar with screws in wine production.

In olive oil production, the entire olive is crushed with a crushing stone.  About 25% of the oil in olives comes from the pit; crushing the pit helps to release the oil.  Then the “olive mash” is transferred to mesh baskets.  The first olive juice which flows freely from this mash is the highest quality oil (virgin olive oil), with lesser quality oils released relative to the force squeezing the olive mash.

With wine, seems there is a similar process.  Grapes are picked and crushed with feet so as not to crush the pits/seeds.  Crushed pits/seeds in grapes make for bitter wine and feet are much gentler on the crushing process.  The juice which runs off from this crushing makes for higher quality wine.

This is not the end, however.  Because during the Byzantine era (4th-7th century C.E.) wine was drunk like water (literally), they wanted to extract the maximum product from the grapes.  The mash which was left on the crushing floor was gathered and put into an underground pit in the center of the crushing floor.  This pit was usually not so large – only about 3 feet deep – and had a channel which led to the collection pit.  Then, a screw was inserted which pressed down on a piece of wood or stone to press this grape mash.  This is what was called the “second pressing” and was used to make lower quality wine.

In today’s wine world, where we have clean drinking water (something not to be taken for granted), there is less of a need to get every little drop out of a grape.  With modern equipment, very often the yield on second pressings is low, and is deemed not financially profitable.  First pressings, or better yet, “free run” wines, however can demand a higher price and are generally higher in quality.  Just like they did 2000 years ago.

The past and present meet – over a glass of wine.

Next time you are are in Israel and up for a glass of wine, or a tour through ancient wine installations, let’s do that together.  Cheers!

A Sea of Reeds?

Barbara brought to my attention an apparent crack in my definitions of yam and agam in my earlier post.  How could the Yam Suf be a yam (sea?) if it has suf (reeds?)?  If it has suf, it should be an agam.

Let’s think about the most famous story involving Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds?), that of the Children of Israel crossing the Yam Suf.  After an arduous period of slavery and 10 grueling plagues, which wiped out the economy of Egypt and left 90% of the Children of Israel dead, the remaining people run for their lives out of Egypt.  After journeying for 3 days away from the comforts and resources of Egypt, they reach Yam Suf.  Up until this point, G-d is continually acting in a way to show his might, not only to the Egyptians but also to the Children of Israel.

Imagine what the Children of Israel were seeing when they stood before the Yam Suf.  What would be the best way for G-d to show His power?  Would they be standing in front of a small pond with lots of reeds (suf)?  How could such a body of water swallow up Egypt’s mighty chariots as described in Exodus 15?

eilat mountainsWe know from the Bible where the Yam Suf is and its description as a border is listed in many places.  Yam Suf is equated with the Red Sea of today.  One of the bordering towns of the Yam Suf is listed as Etzion Gever, near today’s Eilat.  An event which happens on the sea by Etzion Gever gives us another description of not just where the Yam Suf is, but what it is like.

“Yehoshofat (one of the kings of Yehuda) constructed Tarshish ships (a fleet of ships) to sail to Ofir for gold.  But he did not sail because the ships were wrecked (by natural means) at Etzion Gever.”  II Kings 22:49

From this passage, we see that Yam Suf is stormy.  But is the Red Sea stormy?  Most people who visit Eilat would disagree.  Stormy seas are in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Rim, the Straits of Gibralter.  We need to remember, however,  that the Bible only cares about the Levant.  The main yamim here are the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.  Using this as our scale, the Red Sea is the stormiest.  Only 8 years ago, a storm in the Red Sea sank an Egyptian ferry carrying 1300 people.

How then can it be called Yam Suf, Sea of Reeds?  The Atlas Daat Mikra gives an interesting interpretation.  Instead of suf=reeds, think sufa=storm.  That colloborates what we know of Yam Suf from the Children of Israel’s crossing.  It magnifies the miraculous nature of this story; a weakened people comes to a stormy sea pursued by the greatest army of the day.  They cross over on dry land, and the army is swept up in the storm surge.

The result of the fjording of Yam Suf is that the Children of Israel realize G-d’s might, and that all the nations of the world tremble before them.  The way is paved for the birth of a nation.

Lakes and Seas

Words are important.

When I am examining an issue, one of the first lines of clarification is, “What do the terms mean?”  I don’t know if this comes from my science background, my desire to break a problem into parts, but very often defining terms is a good first step in an effort to think clearly.  What does this have to do with water?

I often have tourists ask questions something along the line of:

How can the Sea of Galilee be a “sea” if it is fresh water?  It is too small to be a “sea” – more like a lake.

Is that the Jordan River?  Really?  I imagined it would be like the Mighty Mississippi River.

Why do some streams have water all year (like David Stream) and some streams almost never have water (Og Stream)?  How can they have the same classification?

Good questions, but they ignore the main problem with these terms – they are in English.  The bodies of water in Israel were first described in Hebrew in the Bible, with their English “translations” only coming later.  Remember, that the Hebrew of the Bible was used to describe a very specific terrain, the terrain of the Levant, and not to describe other places.  No matter what you believe about the origins of the Biblical text, one thing is for sure.  The author of the Bible was very familiar with the geography of the Land of Israel.   Thus, we can expect that this author uses geographical terms very specifically, without considering how they may be translated into English.

There are a few different Hebrew words used for bodies of water:

Agammediterranean sunset
Nahar (and Yaor)

I have done a fair amount of research on these terms and their meanings.  This post dives into the meaning of the first two:  agam and yam.

These terms are used in the Bible for bodies of water that do not have a clear vector component.  In other words, they are not “going anywhere”.  In English, you may translate them as lake, sea, or even man-made reservoir!

The difference between an agam and a yam, has to do with a related word agamon which is a reed.  An agam is a body of water, without a vector, which has the possibility for growing reeds, ie. shallow enough that much of its surface could be covered by reeds.

“And the parched land will become an agam, and the thirsty land springs of water:  The home of jackals shall become a pasture for cattle, an enclosure of reeds and rushes.”  Isaiah 35:7

Agam is not used as part of a proper noun in the Bible but rather as a descriptive concept.  The current Agam HaHula in the northern part of Israel is aptly named.

The topography of Israel dictates that agamim are not prevalent. Most of the water in Israel’s interior is “on the move” as Israel is a hilly/mountainous (leave those definitions for another time…) land.

A yam, by comparison, is a much larger body of water (still with no vector component), and much deeper.  There are many examples of yamim in the Bible:  HaYam


HaAcharon (Mediterranean Sea), Yam Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Yam HaMelach (Dead Sea), Yam Suf (Reed/Red? Sea), and many others.  There is no differentiation between salt and fresh water bodies of water, as long as the size dictates a large percentage of clear water.  Yamim can have islands, depths, shores, and are generally much more prevalent (and important) in the Bible than agamim.

“Then sang Moshe and the children of Israel this song to the Lord, and spoke saying:  I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously, the hourse and his rider has he thrown into the yam.”  Exodus 15:1


The Most Daring Thing

“My servant, Moses, is dead. Prepare to cross the Jordan, together with all this people, into the land that I am giving to Bnei Israel.”  Joshua 1:2

Over the past week, I embarked with 17 others on a classic Israeli journey called Yam L’Yam. The trip starts at the Mediterranean Sea and 85 or so kilometers later (about 55 miles) ends at the Sea of Galilee. Our goal – to have a great time, enjoying the beauty of Israel and the company of friends as we traveled across Israel. We planned for the last few months, some of our group went on practice hikes with packed bags on Fridays, we had planning meetings and google docs and yahoo groups. We made reservations, gathered up the gear we thought we needed, checked the maps, read blogs.

The hike is generally done in 3, 4, or 5 days. (Although I have a friend who has a friend who said he did it in one, 22-hour day – if it sounds like a fish tale, it probably is one.) Since our group ranged in age from 13 to 60, and we wanted to do it in one week so we could be home for Shabbat, we decided to plan the 4 day option – Monday through Thursday. We would use Sunday as a travel day to get to the beginning of the trail, and hire a mini-bus to take us home on Thursday night. This expedition would take the place of our annual summer “Friends’ Vacation”, a time that we generally dedicate to hiking, touring and having a good time together. This trip would vary from our standard vacation – we would be sleeping outside most nights, carrying our gear, and relying on our wits and our feet to carry us along. No one brought a car.


yam l'yam train

It’s interesting traveling in a group with 18 people. Although we spend a decent amount of time together generally, being together 24 hours a day is a different experience. Moving 18 people, feeding 18 people, taking care that no one is left behind emotionally, physically, or mentally is sometimes a challenge and


requires a good amount of patience and empathy.


Building community is one of my life’s focuses. I came to Israel seeking to be a part of a community, and have found satisfaction for the last 19 years in helping to build community locally in Chashmonaim and nationally. I build webs of people who genuinely care about each other, wherever I go and with whomever I meet. Much of my work over the past 19 years, especially my work with Taglit/Birthright, focuses on the importance of community affiliation.

Why is community important? Numerous studies show that connection to community lengthens our lives by as much as 14 years! Despite this, and despite the flourishing of electronic communities, people today feel less connected than ever. Average Americans claim to have 1.5 friends on average despite what their Facebook account tells them. Sad.

According to Kurt Vonnegut, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

As we went through our trek, our group had to deal with many challenges – the heat, the lack of water, our crazily heavy packs, mosquitoes, wild boars, naked Nachmanites at 2:00 A.M. There were fears, anger, and disappointment. Through it all, though, we stuck together as a group, drawing on each other’s strengths to pull us through the challenges. We figured out which changes to our plans needed to be made in order to accomplish our goals – not just our individual goals, but our group goals.

People told us that attempting this hike with so many people was foolish and was sure to end in failure. And maybe for the ME generational outlook, the way our Sea to Sea trek ended would be considered a “failure”. Those of us on the trek understood it much differently. It was a most daring thing and ended in complete success.


“To whom it may concern,

Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program – Invitation to public meetings”

Thus read my invitation to presentation of findings on the 6 year study on the proposed Red-Dead canal.  As I have a special love for the Dead Sea and a fascination with all different kinds of topics associated with it, I wanted to hear what the World Bank has to say about this potential solution for the dropping water level.

Here are some of the interesting things I learned at this summary meeting.

The World Bank is interested in this project for three reasons.

dead sea hotels from dredging1.  To Save the Dead Sea

2.  To desalinate water and generate electricity for local governments

3.  To provide a symbol of peace in the region.

The Study is not funded by the World Bank, however.  The World Bank provides management and coordination but the funding came from 8 different countries.  It looked at whether the Red-Dead is feasible, as well as its effects on the environment, alternatives, and modelling of both the Red Sea environment and the Dead Sea environment.

Where does the idea come from?  The Dead Sea is in trouble.  The inflow to the Dead Sea, once 1.3 billion m3/year has now dwindled to about 100,000 m3/year.  This has led to the dramatic drop in the level of the Dead Sea and threats to the environment around it.  The idea of the Red-Dead is to transfer water from the Red Sea in the area of Eilat and Akaba to the Dead Sea.  The drop in elevation from sea level to 427 m below sea level would power hydroelectric plants.  Somewhere along the way, some of the transferred water would undergo desalination and be piped to population centers (mostly in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority), where the need for water is great.

Sounds good?  Maybe.

What the study found, however, is that this plan is costly ($10.6 billion) with 20% of the cost going towards transfer of desalinated water to consumers.  It does not generate any electricity to the grid as all electricity would be expended powering the desalination plants.

Although the technical extraction of water from the Red Sea was evaluated and a possible plan with the smallest environmental footprint was suggested, the effects of transferring a large quantity of sea water to the Dead Sea are unknown.

There are other plans.  The Med-Dead (Mediterranean-Dead Sea pipeline), and restoring the Lower Jordan by a combination of purchasing water from another country (Turkey), desalination, and conservation are the two main contenders.

We could also do nothing.  If we do nothing, the level of the Dead Sea will continue to drop.  At some point, the chemical plants will probably stop pumping, as the cost of pumping will rise as the water level in the northern basin drops (the chemical plants are in the southern basin).  The level of the Dead Sea will stabilize at 550 m below sea level – a full 120 m below the level of today.  We have no idea what kind of damage will be caused by such a dramatic decrease or if the Dead Sea and the environment around it will ever be able to recover.  It could be that endemic species become extinct; that sinkholes threaten population/vacation centers; that industries which provide significant income to both Israel and Jordan are forced to close.

Restoring the Dead Sea is inexonerably linked to tackling water issues in the area in general.  The Dead Sea level continues to drop because we are pulling too much water out of the system.  This is the real challenge, not only to our immediate area but to the entire region.  In Syria where there is a problem with allocating water to agriculture, much of the rural population left their farms and went to the cities.  The resultant strain on city resources is one of the causes of the revolt and bloodshed happening right now in Syria.

“To whom it may concern,”

Solving the crisis in the Dead Sea concerns each and every one of us.  What are you doing for the Dead Sea today?


I am back from my Winter Birthright trip with OU-92, my first winter trip.  The closing ceremony was rushed and I didn’t really have a chance to share with the group some of the thoughts I had about our experience together.  I want first and foremost to thank my wonderful staff.  Rachamim, Vera, DJ, Tehilla, Rabbi Zalman, and Rabbi K cared, listened, and contributed.  A staff that works together can make a good trip into a GREAT trip and you all truly did.
OU-92 Erev Shabbat Roof
Looking back on my Birthright experience this winter with OU-92, the word that kept coming into mind was


The first factor which led to the complexity of the trip was the weather.  And, although, we got quite lucky with the weather, it did eventually catch up with us.  In Birthright, I expect changes in the timing due to unforeseen events; with this trip, however, the changes were due to inclement weather.  How could you cancel Mt. Hertzl?  How do you make a coherent day in Tel Aviv when you can’t do almost anything outside? Sandstorm on Masada, surging waves at the Tel Aviv Port, heavy rains at the Bedouin tent….


That complexity came out in the stories the participants gave about their lives.  Stories about decisions they made that were not easy, about family situations that are far from comfortable, about loss.  Life is not so simple.


And then there is the natural complexity of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel trying to grapple with the Religion of Israel. These three factors trying to fit together to form a coherent whole.  Many times vying with each other, many times coming to loggerheads, many times in beautiful harmony.  The people on the street who said the entire project is too hard for them; the soldiers who said that they are willing to fight for trying to build the puzzle that is Israel; the little gains that you can see if you look hard enough.  Transforming the desert into wonderful peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes.  Providing work for handicapped adults.  Energizing a whole theater with Jewish pride.  Connecting us to our past through stones and stories.  Showing us beauty through waterfalls and endless vistas.


At the end, however, the largest complexity dwells in the individual.  How each and every one of us weaves the story of our ancestors into our present day existence and decides how it will influence our future is the most complex task of all.

I look forward to hearing about how you, the participants of OU-92, take on this complex project and carry the experiences we shared here in Israel into your futures.

‘Cause we are

We are shining stars

We are invincible

We are who we are

On our darkest day

When we’re miles away

So we’ll come

We will find our way home


If you’re lost and alone

Or you’re sinking like a stone

Carry on

May your past be the sound

Of your feet upon the ground

Carry on.

Location, Location, Location

According to Real Estate agents, there are only three relevant factors when selling a house:  location, location and location.

When choosing a location for a settlement, whether in the ancient world or today, there are four factors which are necessary.  In Hebrew, they can be easily remembered  because they all begin with the same letter – mem.

Water (Mayim in Hebrew)
Food (Mazon)
Protection from one’s enemies (Migun)
Location – connection to other settlements through transportation/communication (Makom)

Most settlements in Israel during the Bronze age through approximately the advent of the Roman period were located on tels.  A “tel” is a somewhat artificial mound, with different strata corresponding to different material cultures which existed one after the next in the same spot.

Why did different civilizations build one on top of the other? Because of Location.

The same four attributes were available regardless of who was in control.  Water systems were built around springs; food is grown in arable land; the ever-growing hill on which the settlement was built did not decrease in its ability to protect the residents (in the age before propellants, the longest range weapon was the bow and arrow); and the roads are based on topography.  None of these natural elements are affected by politics.

And so the question arises:  Why are modern cities not built on tels?  When did tels go out of use and why?

In the news this month are the continued finds of a Hasmonean-era port near the Ottoman walls of Akko, on Israel’s northern coast. Could the construction of the port be the cause of the abandonment of the ancient city on the Tel?  What allowed them to build the port on the open sea in that time period?

The ancient city of Akko was built on a tel overlooking the Ne’aman Stream.  The stream provided a port.  In ancient times (and until today), it is impossible to build a port on the open sea. Some locations, like Jaffa and Dor in Israel were lucky enough to have a natural breakwater which made construction of a port possible.  (If you don’t have a breakwater, storms wreak havoc on the ships which are docked and ruin the coastal storage areas.) Instead of building ports on the open sea, settlements took advantage of stream outlets into the sea.  A boat could sail a short distance up the river/stream and dock in relative safety. This happens all over the world until today.  Examples of major ports on rivers near the ocean include New York, Lisbon, and Tokyo.

There are disadvantages to the system.  Once boats got too big, the bottoms could scrape along the bottom of the stream bed. Also, because streams and rivers are reliant on yearly weather conditions, their status – depth, strength, etc. –  can vary greatly from year to year (something we know all too well here in Israel) and impinge on the commercial viability of a port.  Rivers and streams can also sometimes change course.  The Ne’aman Stream, because it is such a lazy stream, does not have one clear channel, and is today nowhere near the ancient tel.  Perhaps during ancient times it also sometimes moved away from the settlement on the tel.

Current locations of Tel Akko, Ne’aman Stream, Ancient Akko, Modern Akko

In order to cope with changing conditions, technological advancements were called into play in the construction of ports. With the development of concrete which could be laid under water, entire artificial ports could be constructed regardless of the natural topography or geography.  One such port here in Israel was Caesaria, constructed by Herod between the years 22 – 10 B.C.E.

Back to Akko.  The history of Tel Akko is like the history of other tels in Israel – layer upon layer of construction and destruction – until the Hellenistic time period. At that time, the tel is under the control of the Greeks, but the change in location off of the tel does not happen because of political reasons.  Nature and technology conspire against Tel Akko. During this time period, the level of the Mediterranean drops several meters.  The tel of Akko “moves” farther and farther inland as the waters recede.  There is pressure to build a port closer to the sea.

The other factor which comes into play here is the introduction to the Land of Israel of Greek engineering and technology.  Numerous aqueduct systems were built during this time period taking advantage of the scientific discoveries in the ancient Greek world.  So, it should come as no surprise, that this combination of nature and technology led to the construction of a sea port in the area of current-day Akko.  The archeological finds on Tel Akko show that at this time, most of the tel has been abandoned, with only scarce finds from the Roman and Byzantine periods.  Archaeological finds from this summer reveal a port on the sea, adjacent and under the current “Old Akko” Ottoman port city walls.

The tel is abandoned in favor of the new city of Akko.  With its new harbor, it becomes the main port of the Land of Israel in its time.  Indeed, the status of Akko as Israel’s #1 port continues through the ages until it is destroyed in 1840 C.E. by the British, Austrians and French who come to return Akko  to the Ottomans after Ibrahim Pasha from Egypt tries to throw off the Turkish yoke.

John Adams said:
I have heard my father say, that he never knew a piece of land to run away or break.

But as we see from the history of Akko, settlements can and do change location, running away from their former site.  Real Estate markets also change – what’s a good location today, may not be so tomorrow.  In Israel this plays out in the movements, through the ages, of settlements.

Montfort Castle

Last week took me to Nahal Kziv with a group of friends.  We parked near Moshav Hila, home to the returned soldier, Gilad Shalit and descended to the stream bed.  After playing in the clear, cool waters, we walked along the nahal for a long bit enjoying the shade.  We came across a confluence of paths – this was our sign to leave the stream bed and start the ascent to the Montfort castle (and the cars waiting beyond it).

As we crossed the nahal to leave it behind, we were met by a large wall.  Certain elements seemed Crusader, but I did not remember learning anything about the structure beforehand.  Turns out that my intuition was correct – Crusader period.

But let’s take a step back.  The Crusaders arrived in Israel in 1099.  As part of their compensation for taking part in these campaigns, territory in the Levant was granted to and purchased by Christian European Crusader families.  These landholdings were used as residences and farms, and usually made their owners very rich.  Once there was wealth, castles were built to store and protect that wealth.

Salahadin, a Moslem Ayubbid emperor, retook the countryside and captured the castles in 1187 in one massive campaign, lasting only a few months.

But the Crusaders were nothing if not tenacious.  They came back only 4 years later and were successful in recovering most of their territory (with the notable exception of Jerusalem).  The landholders, however, never recovered their former glory and became strapped for cash.  At around the same time, the Military Orders were established and were looking for centers for their operations and for their pilgrims.  The Hospetallers, the Templars, and the Teutons began purchasing lands that had previously been owned by individual families.

Each order had their own specialty; but all strove to combine a monastic lifestyle with defense of Christian sites and pilgrims.   An earlier castle existed in the current-day town of Me’iliya called Castellum Regis.  This castle was seat of the Galilean Crusader kingdom dominated by the Franks.  It was in the territory of the De Milly family until the
knight, Joscelin III of Courtenay, married into the family and inherited the castle and the surrounding countryside.
In 1220 the entire area was sold to the Teutons who began construction on the Montfort castle in 1226 – leading to the decline of Castellum Regis.  The Teutons, who had started in Akko, decided to build in the surrounding countryside a spur castle.  It is not known exactly why the location of Montfort, on a mountain spur, not on a major road, not near lush farmland, was chosen for the main castle of the order.  It could be that the knights wished to distance themselves from the competing (and sometimes hostile)
Templars and Hospitallers.  It could be that they wanted to have a remote location for their archives and treasury.  It could be that it was simply built as a lavish retreat for the Grand Master, who, it seems was a permanent resident, much in the sense that Masada was built as a refuge for Herod.

The castle was built with all the normal elements, donjon, moat, watch tower, 3 surrounding walls, and also with some creature comforts such as a waste chute.

The structure below in the Nahal which I happened upon last week is thought to be a guest house and a mill.  The streambed of Nahal Kziv forms part of the Sea-to-Sea hiking trail of today.  (I hope to hike this trail next summer with some friends/kids.)  Most likely, the path also served Crusader pilgrims trying to get from the coastline to the Christian sites in the interior.  They would not have wanted to make the arduous climb up to the castle (as my companions and I did last week – all 1200 steps up!).  It would have been much more comfortable for them to seek shelter close to the stream.

The fate of Montfort was similar to that of all the other Crusader castles of the Second Crusader kingdom.  On the 8th of June, 1271, Baybars lay siege on the outpost.  Ten days later after Baybars breached the outermost wall, the parties signed a truce which allowed the Teutonic knights free passage to Akko in exchange for the fortress.  The Mamelukes destroyed the castle and pushed remnants into Nahal Kziv.  It is thought that approximately two-thirds of the stones from the complex are now in the Mediterranean.

After hiking for 7 hours, we returned to our cars, tired, sweaty and hungry, with a bit more of Eretz Yisrael under our feet and in our souls.

Iyyar in Ashdod

I hope you all had a relaxing Pesach and were able to do a bit of touring.

This month, Iyar, I want to focus on modern settlement (pre-Nefesh B’Nefesh ) as a tribute to Yom HaZikaron/HaAtzmaut.  In that spirit, we will be visiting …….  ASHDOD!


Ashdod has some terrific sites.  We will have a lookout of the Most Modern port in the country (and possibly in the entire Mediterranean) – the only port in the world that is Shomer Shabbat.  We will also stop at the Ad HaLom memorial and talk about the miracles which occurred here during the Independence War.

This month:  2 dates for your convenience.

Tour date: Sunday, May 6, Iyyar 14 AND Tuesday, May 8, Iyyar 16.
Sites will include:  Lookout of Port of Ashdod, Ashdod-by-the-Sea, Ad HaLom Memorial