Bar’am National Park

March 22nd 2011

In a country like Israel where ancient things are quite common, the Bar’am National Park in the Upper Galilee is home to one of the oldest synagogue remains in all of Israel. The park is located less than 1000 feet from the border between Israel and Lebanon.

The synagogue ruins date back to the times of the Mishnah, approximately 1,800 years ago. It is believed that Bar’am was once a thriving and affluent Jewish community with the resources to support two separate synagogues. Nothing is left of the second, smaller synagogue, although its lintel, the decorative beam from above the entrance, is on display at the Louvre in Paris.

The restored remains of the community’s primary synagogue are most impressive. Made of local Basalt stone, you’ll be able to clearly see three separate entrances in the front of the synagogue. Note the entrance in the middle with an elaborate arched door. To either side are two other, more conventional square entrances. Step inside the open-air structure and try to locate the inscription of the name of the synagogue’s original builder. Three columns outside the main entrances are still standing and there are additional columns inside the roofless synagogue that suggest where walls once stood.

There is an entrance fee to explore Bar’am National Park. The park is wheelchair accessibleand is open during regular daytime hours. Don’t miss the nearby Bar’am oak forest reserve which features Kermes oak trees, native to the Mediterranean region. In the oak forest are signs for the graves of Queen Esther and Mordechai, figures best known from the Biblical Book of Esther. Most scholars believe that the real Tomb of Esther and Mordechai is actually located in Iran.

Bar’am means Son of the People and was an ancient Jewish community. In more recent history, it was a mixed village of Christians and Muslims. The modern Kibbutz Bar’am was founded in 1949, just after the establishment of the State of Israel, in order to guard the nearby border with Lebanon. Though kibbutz members work in other industries, the main source of income in Kibbutz Bar’am is fruit orchards and the associated packing plant. Paintings and Jewish ritual items are on display at the kibbutz’s modest Bar David Museum.