The Baram Forest and Ancient Synagogue

The Baram Forest and Ancient Synagogue

One of the most impressive synagogues in the Galilee is located at Baram in the eastern part of the Upper Galilee

The route combines a walk in the national park with a hike in the Baram Forest, home to typical Galilee woodland. The hike is suited to all seasons, apart from cold, rainy winter days. It is an easy trail, suitable for the whole family.

How to get there:

Take Road 89 from Sasa to the Hiram intersection and then continue north on Road 8967 to the Baram intersection. A prominent sign will then direct you towards the entrance of the Baram national park and ancient synagogue some 300 meters up the road.

The ancient synagogue at Baram:

There is an entry fee to the national park. Ancient Baram is situated on a wooded hill, at the top of which stands the Maronite Christian village church.  During the War of Independence, the village was saved from total destruction because its inhabitants didn’t fight the Jews. They were evacuated temporarily to the neighbouring village of Jish (Gush Halav), where they live to this day for want of an alternative. The church, which is still in use, is situated in the abandoned village. The Maronites hold religious ceremonies there on the major religious festivals.

In 1905, a synagogue from the Byzantine period was discovered in the village. It was part of the Jewish town of Baram, which pre-dated the village. Nowadays, we know of dozens of synagogues in the Galilee and the Golan dating from this period, an impressive testimony to the intensive Jewish settlement in the Galilee hundreds of years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish life in the Galilee survived despite the unrelenting pressures of war and forced conversions that Jews were subjected to. Only at the end of the Middle Ages was Jewish settlement in the Galilee reduced to the Safed and Tiberias regions only. Some of the Jews of the Galilee moved to Lebanon, while others made their way to Syria. Some even converted to Islam. The Baram synagogue is distinctive in its row of columns that stand before the wall of the entrance, forming an unusual vestibule. The remains of columns and stones found there have given rise to speculation that the structure may have had a second storey. This synagogue had no interior ornamentation, such as the mosaics familiar to us from other Galilean synagogues, perhaps because it is one of the earliest. Notice how the entrance to the synagogue faces Jerusalem (southwards) like many other synagogues in the Galilee. No traces have been found of the Torah ark, and it seems that it was probably a permanent fixture in the southern wall close to the entrance.

If you look carefully at the impressive façade of the synagogue, you can make out three openings. Above the right-hand opening, under the window, an inscription in Aramaic - “Benaya de’Elazar ben Yudan” – can be seen, probably a dedication to a family that donated money for the construction of the synagogue. The right-hand opening is adorned with a victory wreath, next to which two Nike goddesses, winged goddesses of victory, had previously stood (the Nike shoe manufacturer is named after them). These figures were destroyed many years ago. These Roman symbols, found in other synagogues in the Galilee too, probably attest to religious tolerance, the cultural influence of other religions, and the ability of the Jews of that period to distinguish between a work of art and a religious symbol.

The site also contains another synagogue that is not so well preserved, identical in size to the one described above, evidence of the presence of a large Jewish community in Baram. In the second structure, an inscription bearing the words: “[May there be] peace in this place and in all Israel, Yosse Ha’levi ben Levi, builder of this lintel. May his deeds be blessed with peace.”  This inscription is now in the Louvre in Paris.

Baram Forest

After your visit to the synagogue, you can hike through the Baram Forest. Return to the Baram intersection and turn east to Road 8967. One and a half kilometres along the road you’ll find a turning to the Baram Forest on the right. After turning right, follow a dirt track bearing blue markings, which will lead you to the gully of the stream where the 4-kilometre route of the hike runs.

The Baram Forest is a unique spot in Israel, an area of some 1000 dunams with an uncommon concentration of the Palestinian oak  to the virtual exclusion of any other trees. The trees in the forest are impressively large and have escaped destruction thanks to the charcoal makers from the nearby villages, who wanted to make a living from the ”interest” accrued from the trees and therefore made sure not to harm the core of the forest. Some 600 metres along the blue-marked dirt track, you’ll reach a fork, where the path straight on bears black markings and the right-hand turning continues with blue markings. Leave your car here and begin walking down the blue-marked path.

The walk along the path is pleasant and passes through cool woodland. After some 800 metres, the path ends at the edge of the forest at the Dishon Stream. Now take the right-hand path, marked in red (and not the black-marked path that turns left down to the stream). Here, the terrain is bare of vegetation. After about 200 metres, the path enters the forest again and climbs the shallow gully of the Tzivon Stream. After walking for about a kilometre, in the heart of the forest turn right off the red path to meet the black path, which you should follow for about one and a half kilometres to arrive back at your car.

Autumn crocuses close up:

In October and November, you can revel in the flowering of autumn crocuses on Mount Admon. From the ancient synagogue in Baram, drive about 6 km along Road 8967 and follow the road right towards Reyhanya, drive past the village and turn right onto Road 988. 2 km up the road turn left (south) onto a dirt track that begins from a break in the cattle fence that is closed off with metal (for cattle).  Follow the track down a few hundred meters, passing the rusty, bullet-pocked remains of a vehicle, and on the slopes to the left you will see the crocuses in full bloom. It’s worth continuing on the dirt track rather than climbing up the goat paths, and after the path bends to the left, you will come to a concentration of crocuses growing very close to the path, so that with an easy climb up the slope you can enjoy them from close up.

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