Home > FEATURE ARTICLES > Travel Hotspots

Travel Hotspots


NC Archaeologist Has Find-Of-A-Lifetime, 3 Years In A Row

Dr. Jodi Magness is the daughter of FAR Hadassah member, Marlene Magness, of Chevra Chapter.  She has spoken at various venues in Palm Beach Country about her findings. 

This might depict Alexander the Great. It is from a mosaic scene that is the first non-Biblical mosaic every uncovered in an Israeli synagogue.
Credit James Haberman

Many archaeologists wait their entire career for one big find. UNC-Chapel Hill'sJodi Magness? Well, let's just say that she's having a spectacular time making discovery after discovery.

In 2011, Magness took a team to Israel to identify a dig location. They hoped to find an ancient synagogue.

"We didn't actually know that there was a synagogue of this type before we started digging," Magness said. It was a big site and it was overgrown. "And really by luck we came down right on the eastern wall of the synagogue in that very first sounding that we made."

The 5th century synagogue is located in Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel's Lower Galilee.

Jodi Magness' good fortune has continued. Since 2011, her team has spent every summer uncovering the structure's spectacular mosaic floor. The floor is divided into scenes and the ancient mosaic tiles depict stories from the Old Testament.

"The very first mosaic [scene] was really spectacular. The first thing that peered out of the dirt was the face of a woman."

This is the first image that was uncovered at the site.
Credit James Haberman

That summer the team found more mosaics, including one that depicts a story from the book of Judges. It stars the Biblical strong-man,  Samson. In the story, Samson takes revenge on his enemy by tying the tails of 300 foxes together. He then places lighted torches between the tails and sets the foxes loose to burn down the fields of the Philistines.

This scene of foxes with lighted torches between their tails was discovered in a 5th century synagogue at Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel¹s Lower Galilee.

In 2013, the team found another Samson scene. This one depicts the story of Samson and the gate of Gaza. Magness tells the story this way: "Samson goes to Gaza to sleep with a prostitute. And while he's in with the prostitute the people of Gaza decide that they will ... ambush him when he comes out in the morning."

But Samson fools the villagers. He wakes up in the middle of the night, picks up the gate of Gaza, puts it on his shoulders, and carries the gate away.

Samson carrying the gate of Gaza, mosaic uncovered by an archaeological team on a dig in Galilee led by UNC- Chapel Hill's Jodi Magness.
Credit James Haberman

According to Magness, prior to her team's discovery, there was only one other scene of Samson in a synagogue in ancient Israel. She has found two more in the Huqoq location so far.

The discoveries have continued. A few weeks ago, the team turned up another mosaic. Part of the image depicts an elephant with shields tied to its side.

"Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible are there stories with elephants in them," Magness says. "So clearly this scene is not drawn ... from the Old Testament." This is the first time that a non-Biblical story has been found in any ancient synagogue.

Jodi Magness suggests that the image might be a depiction of a legend about a meeting between Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest. This conjecture will require intense study.

Jodi Magness working at the Huqoq excavation site, Israel
Credit James Haberman

Magness expects that the team will continue at the site for several years. There is still a lot more of the floor to uncover.

"If we weren't to find any other mosaics at all at this point, I would feel that I have already discovered more than my share of wonderful lucky stuff," she says.

To Magness, her work connects closely to the Hebrew concept of "dayenu." In the Passover song Dayenu, the Jews thank the God of Israel for all that he's done for them.

The song describes each thing that God did that would have been enough until something greater, better happens.

"Every year at the end of our excavation season I say 'dayenu.' If this is all that I had discovered it would have been enough and then every year we come back and discover even more. So it's really been an extraordinary experience."

Find out more about the Huqoq dig here.




                                Shira Chapter Is Back From Cuba!

            It was a most memorable adventure. We had a group of 32 people and visited three houses of worship. We brought many supplies with us, soap toothpaste, toothbrushes, over the counter medicines, adult diapers, plastic backed bed sheets as well as Hebrew books, Talesim, Yarmulkas, Haggadahs and many other items we were told about before we left the States. We divided our “goodies” into three packages, the largest package going to the Havana Congregation, which was the first one we saw. On Monday, February 3, we went to the Great Synagogue of Havana, Beth Shalom, a Conservative Synagogue, part of the Patronato of the Hebrew Community of Cuba. This large building houses both the Synagogue and the pharmacy which distributes medicines and other pharmaceutical supplies to all of the Shuls in Cuba. 

We were met there by the dynamic Adela Dworin, the president of the Shul and the director of the entire Jewish community of Cuba.  She was absolutely delightful, a modern day Golda Meir. She told us that there were only about 1500 Jews left in Cuba out of a once thriving   Jewish Community of many thousands and that this Shul, Beth Shalom, serves about 1100 Jews.  Most live in  difficult circumstances. She told us in her inimitable joking fashion, that she has a PHD in Schnorring!  Raising money for our people and keeping Judaism alive in Cuba is her life’s work. There wasn't a dry eye in the room after her plea for the Jewish Community of Cuba.

         Cuba does not have one Rabbi in the entire country.  A Rabbi visits from Santiago, Chile or from Rio De Janiero, Brazil two or three times a year to perform weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvot.  We were guests for Friday night   services which were very much like our own conservative services. Services were led by members of the Congregation, who appeared to be in their late teens or early     twenties. The prayer books had our familiar Hebrew prayers on the right side and the translations in Spanish on the left side, with some of the prayers transliterated into our alphabet. The Shul was filled with music and congregants singing from different parts of the temple. Most of the music was familiar to us though some of the prayers were recited in a different order than we were used to from our own Friday night services. What remained the same were the closing prayers, Aleinu, Mourners’ Kaddish and Adon Olam.

     There were over three hundred people, most of whom were about thirty years old. After services, we enjoyed a dinner of roast chicken, yellow rice, salad, and ice cream for dessert. As you see, they do not have a way of being    kosher in Cuba. We spoke to the community as these young men cleared the tables. They were a delight to behold.

  Our second stop on the synagogue path was a small town called Santa Clara, where the shul we visited was in the center of a block of row houses in very poor condition.  We didn’t even realize that this was a house of worship.  We went in and were greeted by the leader of the congregation, David Tacher.  All 32 of us were seated in a room with many Jewish artifacts, such as menorahs, Torah covers, dreidels, Shabbos candles, and walls of Hebrew books, and even a Torah! 

     David spoke to us in Spanish, and our Cuban guide was a wonderful interpreter, who picked up on his extreme emotion and conveyed it to us. We asked if any of their older people spoke Yiddish, and David told us that most of the Jewish community that is not in Havana were of Sephardic descent and if they could, they would have   spoken Ladino.  He told us about the difficulties they were having with their young people leaving Cuba.  Once they are educated, they make Aliyah to Israel or they go to Canada, or anywhere else in the world that meets with their desires.  There once were many thousands of Jews in Cuba. Now there are 1500. They do have a computer, though an old one, and they do get e-mail.  He is very proud of his community of about 30 or so Jews and they hold services every Friday night. His theme was that Jews are Jews no matter where in the world they live.  We must stick together as one people.  He thanked us for taking the trouble to come to see him. Before we left Santa Clara,  we gave monetary donations and some more of the everyday items we brought with us for the communities.

     Our next visit was to the town of Cienfuegos, where we were invited into the home of Rebeca Langus Rodriguez, which housed the Comunidad Hebrea de Cienfuegos- Kadima.”  Again, this community center was in the middle of a block of rundown row houses. We climbed up a flight of stairs into the living room of Rebeca’s apartment. There were a few silver artifacts, candle sticks, menorahs, a dreidel, and of course, a Torah!  The walls were lined with Hebrew books.   It was built like our old railroad flats of the lower east side. Past the living room was a bedroom and a bathroom, followed by a kitchen and dining room. and there were two small patios, front and back. She did have an old computer on a desk in the living room. We gave our “goodie bags” and monetary donations to Rebeca for her minute congregation and she was thrilled.

     Once more, our talented Cuban guide translated for us. There are about 19 or 20 congregants involved in this Community Center.  Five of them are children, and of these,  four are in Israel now for the Maccabea games, including her own son, who won a gold medal for archery. She told us that they do Friday night services in Hebrew, although no one can read Hebrew.  When questioned, she showed us a siddur with about eight pages with pieces of paper stuck in them in the appropriate places with transliterations for the most important prayers! She said that they sing songs that they remember from years back. We asked her to sing one, and after much coaxing, she began to chant, ”Oseh Shalom Bimromov, Hu Yaseh    Shalom Aleynu.” At this point we all joined in with her, and she began to cry. She said that indeed, we are all one family, and Jews are Jews all over the world! That seems to be the mantra of all the Jews we met there.

    When we returned to Havana, we visited the Jewish cemetery, where we saw the grave of the first person (a woman) buried there when it was first designated as a Jewish cemetery.  That was in 1906, but it wasn't until 1910 that it was officially designated a Legal Jewish Cemetery. There is a Holocaust Memorial at this place as well. It was a very moving experience. 

      We received a lovely letter of thanks from Adela Dworin for our monetary donations as well as medicines, soaps, toothpaste, books and religious items that we brought with us to distribute to the Shuls in Cuba. 

       We were all so glad that we participated in this expedition. Kudos to Maria Diaz of World Travel International for arranging this fabulous tour of Jewish Cuba. Without her expertise, we would never have been able to visit the unusual smaller synagogues and other venues of Jewish import which were part of our journey. And thank you as well to Diana Stimmel, our President, and Judy Stone, our Fund-Raising V.P. for finding Maria and working so hard in conjunction with her. It was an experience that will remain forever in our memories! 

 Respectfully submitted,

Arlene Galler- Exec. V.P Shira Delray Hadassah







Winter in Natanya-is the best kept secret in Hadassah.

Winter in Natanya-has been in existence for 28 years, based in
beautiful Natanya, Israel.

Winter in Natanya-offers women and men to volunteer at Natanya
schools, hospital, soup kitchen and flower nursery.

Winter in Natanya-offers the opportunity to study Ulpan.

Winter in Natanya-offers the opportunity to hear lectures,
participate in Israeli dancing, Israeli movies and tour Israel.

Winter in Natanya-is greatly appreciated and held in high esteem
by the people of Natanya.

TOUR ISRAEL, e-mail Anne Lee Weiner, 2011 Participant, at
lighthousealw@bellsouth.net .


Take a tour of the Synagogues of America by clicking here.

Beautiful photos of various windows and bimahs in synagogues around the United States, thanks to
photographers Jeff Perkins,  Mike Swirnoff, Paul Birman,
Barry Grossman and Frederic Young:











































Submitted by Sheila Steinberg, Chevra Chapter

I recently returned from a tour of Spain, where 500 years ago, on Tisha B'Av in 1492, the Jews were expelled by Isabella and Ferdinand.  Surprisingly, in 2010, there is still (or again?) a Jewish presence in Spain - and tourists are flocking to partake of this feast for the eyes and the soul.

Two of the many cities we visited, Toledo and Cordoba, were home to the peaceful co-existence of 3 religions during what has been called "The Golden Age of Spain."  Prior to the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand, Moors, Jews and Christians lived side-by-side, plying their trades and helping each other through the sharing of their expertise.  The Moors were skilled architects and builders.  They designed and built the synagogues for the Jews, and, to our delight, 3 of these synagogues, which at one time had been converted to churches, are now beautiful testaments to the perseverence of the Jewish people and our culture.

While they are now "museums," tour guides from all nations (even German-speaking) bring their groups through, explaining the history and the splendor of what were once thriving Sephardic communities. 


There are two synagogues (Sinogogas) in Toledo.  The first, just down the street from a bronze statue of Samuel Ha-Levi, at the entrance to the "Judios" or Jewish Quarter, is called the Transito.  It is the larger of the two, and is a splendid example of the blend of Moorish and Jewish elements.  There is a Women's Gallery upstairs and a Garden of  Remembrance in the back.                                                                                  Judaica available at a shop nearby Transito 

The Bimah wall Inside the Transito Synagogue




Women's Gallery  




Moorish details

 The 2nd synagogue, now called Santa Maria la Blanca, on Calle Reyes Catolicos, is much older and much smaller, but still in the Moorish style.  The Jews owned the well in that area of the city, and everyone had to come to them to get water.  Inside, there are pillars and mosaics, yet the layout is still reminiscent of any synagogue you might visit today.




Maimonides was born in Cordoba.  There is a square named for him and his statue
dominates a main street in the Judios.  The locals believe
that rubbing his left foot will impart you with great wisdom!




The Sinogoga was converted to the Maria de la Blanca church in the early 1500's, but the Catholics did not change the original Moorish-Jewish architecture at all.  There is Hebrew writing all over the walls here, and the original Torah niches are still in place.  










The Bimah and niches for the Torahs are at the left.  To the right is the front entrance from a courtyard where, in 1985, the Spanish people put up a plaque in honor of Maimonides' genius and great contributions to Cordoba.

In the entrance vestibule, there is a wooden staircase leading up to the women's gallery. 

We were surprised to learn that there are several thriving Jewish communities in Spain!   There are about 3500 Jews in Barcelona.  They have 3 synagogues - Chabad, Orthodox and Reform; a JCC with Day School, and an Old Age home.  While there was an old cemetery on Montjuic (Jewish Mountain), the area is now a city park.  But you can see some of the gravestones at the Museum on the mountain.
The oldest synagogue in all of Europe, according to an article on the BCNinternet, was once the main synagogue of Barcelona, Shlomo Ben Adrot Synagogue, in the Barrio Gotic at Call Marlet, 5.  Its remains are located below ground, protected by a glass surface, which allows visitors to walk around above them.  Admission is free.  Go to
www.calldebarcelona.org for more information.
Malaga, Alicante, Elche and Benidorm, 4 cities on the southern coast of Spain between Valencia and Barcelona, all have Jewish congregations.  Go to
www.kosherdelight.com/SpainSynagoguesAlicante.htm for details and addresses. And Valencia itself has 2 congregations.  Check out their websites at www.cjaviv.org or www.aviv.es.tl/ , and www.uscj.org/world/valencia/.
Two other interesting cities with old Jewish Quarters are Segovia, which has a Didactic Centre of the Jewish Quarter,
www.turismodesegovia.com, and Gerona, 60 miles NE of Barcelona, which was the home of Nachmanides.
The internet has a wealth of information for those of you who are planning a trip to Spain and want to visit the Jewish Community that was, as well as those that are once more enjoying life after the Expulsion.  Go and enjoy!

 A Footnote: See "Jewish Communities" under Feature Articles for pictures and story about Ribadavia, another Spanish town to the Northwest, near Vigo.

Stay tuned for more pictures and stories from Jewish Hot Spots around the world!  If you have something to contribute, please e-mail website coordinator Sheila at ssteinb@gmail.com.

   |  Who We Are  |  What We Do  |  Where We Do It  |  Read About It  |  Join Now  |  Donate  |
  |  Login  |  Contact Us  |  Careers  |  Terms & Conditions  |