As Hanukkah nears, Hasmoean-era site in central Israel should be upgraded
by Howie Mischel
Hanukkah is upon us. Throughout the Land of Israel preparations for this most beautiful and universally loved holiday is underway. When you open a newspaper this week you will see announcements for dozens of parties, plays, concerts and other activities celebrating the festival of freedom.
In our schools and yeshivot children will be taught about the history of the Hasmoneans and the Maccabees, about the victory of the few over the many, of the triumph of light over darkness. And this is as it should be. We have much to be thankful for and to celebrate in our land as we find inspiration in what occurred here more than 2,000 years ago.
There’s only one thing that’s wrong with this picture. In the City of Modi’in, just 17 miles from Jerusalem, where Matityahu and his five sons began the rebellion that helped preserve the Jewish future, there is an archaeological site. It is a hillside at the edge of the Buchman neighborhood and beneath it is an ancient Hasmonean period village that many believe to be the site of ancient Modi’in.
In 2001, excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered one of the oldest synagogues ever found in Israel. The site has been prominently positioned on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s list of heritage sites in Eretz Yisrael. Yet there is not a plaque, a road sign, a light or any form of marker to signal to citizens or visitors from around the world that this important ancient site has been discovered in the virtual center of our country.
Despite this sad situation, not everyone has missed the cue with regard to this site. A project to properly preserve the site and develop it into an archaeological park and educational visitor center was initiated by former deputy mayor Alex Weinreb. The proposed plan was developed with the input of numerous consulting experts and a team from the Israel Government Tourist Office.
Stand where Judah Maccabee once stood
But today, years later, and under a new municipal administration this site lies abandoned. The proposed project is unfunded. The excavated synagogue is now covered with thick brush and is surrounded by a security fence to prevent further theft of precious stones from the site. Not a shekel has been spent to help improve the site or allow it to be marked and opened for even low level use by our citizens.
The current city administration purports to have a concept for creating some sort of development fund in order to raise dollars to finance a variety of projects around Modi’in. Reportedly, it would be fashioned after Mayor Teddy Kollek’s Jerusalem Foundation which did so much for that city’s preservation and development. But Modi’in is not Jerusalem and its current mayor is missing an important point.
While he may have grandiose plans for funding dozens of projects around this beautiful and rapidly developing new city, there really is only one reason why a visitor to Israel would pull off Highway 1 on a drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. That reason would be to come to the Eretz HaMaccabim Visitor Center so they could stand where Judah Maccabee once stood and learn something about our struggle for freedom and the fight against oppression and assimilation in those times.
That site should be the first and primary focus of the city’s efforts but that would presume appreciation and understanding of our history and who we are. Growing numbers of residents in our neighborhood have come to understand the significance of what we have here and also realize that a key future economic driver for the city could lie beneath that hillside.
One of the most memorable moments of my Aliyah last year was to join about 150 men and women from our neighborhood at a Kabbalat Shabbat service at the ancient synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah. I plan to be there again this coming Shabbat to pray, to celebrate, to remember and to give thanks. And to hope that somehow something can be done to correct this situation and ensure that this important historical site will be properly remembered and ultimately preserved for our future generations.
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