Peki’in and Jerusalem are the only two places in Israel where Jews have been living, uninterrupted, since the Temple’s destruction.
In my last article on the festival of Lag Ba’omer, I mentioned Peki’in, a primarily Druze town in northern Israel that has a significant, albeit neglected, connection to the Lag B’Omer celebrations. According to tradition, Jews have maintained a continued presence in Peki’in since the destruction of the Second Temple. The only exception was during the years 1936–1939, when Peki’in’s Jews were forced to leave due to the violent Arab riots. The only family to return when the riots subsided was the Zinati family.
According to the Talmud, Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah opened a Yeshiva in Peki’in, and as mentioned in the previous article, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar hid in a cave in Peki’in for 13 years to escape the Roman execution warrant on Rabbi Shimon.
In addition to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s cave, the ancient synagogue of Peki’in is definitely worth visiting. Located in the center of Peki’in, the synagogue is said to have built into its walls two stones taken from the walls of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Some say that the yeshiva of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah was located on the grounds of the Peki’in synagogue.
In 1926 and 1930 respectively, two old stone tablets were uncovered on the synagogue grounds. One depicts a menorah, shofar and lulav, and the second depicts a Torah Ark. Both are dated to the late 2nd century. In February 2017, an 1,800-year-old limestone column capital was found, which was engraved with Hebrew writing, further strengthening the proof of a Jewish presence in Peki’in since the Second Temple era.
Israel’s 100-shekel banknote has a picture of former Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi on one side and of the Peki’in synagogue on the other. President Ben Zvi was a strong supporter of Jewish renewal and restoration in Peki’in. Peki’in and Jerusalem are the only two places in Israel where Jews have been living, uninterrupted, since the Temple’s destruction.
The synagogue, as well as the other Jewish sites in Pekiin, are maintained by octogenarian Margalit Zinati, the only Jew still living in Peki’in today. She traces her family as one of the first to arrive after the destruction of the Second Temple. Both of Margalit’s parents were born in Peki’in, and according to her family tradition, their roots in Peki’in and continuous presence in the town date back over 2,000 years. So, too, her family served as priests in the Holy Temple before it was destroyed.
Margalit never married so that she could remain in the now-predominantly Druze town of Pekiin . Last month I had the honor to meet Margalit Zinati in her home and hear her story first-hand.