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Background: Sometimes, ancient secrets are discovered in unexpected places. Such is the case with Dir Aziz, an abandoned Syrian village in the southern Golan that was built on the ruins of a Jewish village from the Talmudic Period. In the village, visitors can see an ancient synagogue, olive presses, and a spring.
Archaeological excavations that were conducted here in 1998 uncovered an impressive synagogue that was apparently built at the beginning of the 6th century CE. It was in use, until a fierce earthquake hit the area in 749 CE.
A tour of the synagogue: From the parking lot, we’ll ascend to the synagogue on a beaten path that leads east, with a few stone steps on the way. From the entrance area of the synagogue, you can go through the main entrance to the prayer hall; here you can sit and imagine the voices of prayer that were heard here 1500 years ago.
At the entrance to the synagogue, you can see the columns that were discovered on site, as well as the benches – found in a complete state – used by the worshippers. In the southern wall of the synagogue (on your left as you enter), there’s a rounded niche that served as an ark for Torah (and other) scrolls. An inscription was found on a stone arch nearby, stating: “Yudan Chaya (Na) Vgam Azizo(s) Hasatat.” Researchers understand this inscription to mean: “Yehudah was the donor, and Azizos was the stone mason” – of this synagogue. Can it be a coincidence that a stone with the name “Azizos” was just recently found in a village that has been known for centuries as Dir Aziz?
The discoveries from inside the synagogue include a hoard of 14 gold coins that were hidden in a tin can under the benches.
After a walk around the synagogue ruins, you can exit on the western side, descend a bit, and then you’ll arrive at an olive press that’s at the edge of the village, near the agricultural fields. This is also an excellent lookout point over the Kanaf Riverbed. It’s possible to walk around the village ruins and see other buildings, too.
*After a visit to the village, you can descend to the spring and wading pools that are below. It’s a perfect place for a picnic and some rest.
Moshav Kanaf: This modern village is located at a height of 300 meters above sea level, with an incredible view of the area. It was founded at a nearby temporary spot in April of 1985 by members of a group that lived as a “Moshbutz” (a hybrid moshav/kibbutz), and then moved here to its permanent site in May of 1991. The residents work in agriculture, tourism, and many other professions.
The entrance road to the village is also the western-most spot that the Syrian military forces reached in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Syrians already saw Lake Kinneret from here, and began to descend; just then, they were stopped and pushed back by the IDF 39th Battalion of the 4th Armored Brigade.
The village is named for the Arab village known as “Mazraat Kanaf,” which was located on a hill to the west of the modern village. Archaeologists discovered here the ruins of an ancient Jewish village from the Period of the Mishnah and Talmud, including…yet another ancient synagogue