Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exploring Israel - Motza

When vacation is here, my family and I love to explore Israel. There are so many fascinating cities and towns, each founded at a different point is Israel's history, each with a different character and a different look.
There are so many places within Israel that are only a car-ride away.

Mo Mot Motz Motza
We drove about 15 minutes to Motza, an ancient and renewed town. Our first stop was the site of a mikveh from the First Temple period. We parked our car on the road and walked down to the place of the mikveh. We had a good chuckle when we saw a NaNachNachman car and trailer there with three Breslover Chassidim selling sefarim (books) there.
We actually bought a book of prayers for special occasions from them.
I asked them to whom they were selling books in the middle of nowhere? They said that this actually a very popular and trafficked place. They said that pilgrim passers-by on the way to the Temple Mount would stop at the Motza mikveh. One of the Breslovers said that once there was so much water that two more mikvaot were built along side the first. "Now," he said, "The water has trickled down to only enough for the first mikveh."
Next to the mikveh, the Breslovers put up a curtain so that people could tovel (purify themselves) in the mikveh in privacy.

Super Old and Old Motza
We walked along the road toward Jerusalem for about two minutes when we came to a small building that once was a Khan (way station) and now served as a synagogue. The Khan itself was built on an ancient Roman village and a Crusader fortress. There are relics of Jews living in Motza all the way up to the First Temple period. The name Motza was found there on a ceramic clay jug from 800 BCE.
Motza is actually at the center of a very wide field with remnants of an old farming town thousands of years old. The town is mentioned in the Books of Joshua (18:26), Chronicles and in the Mishna.
The Talmud says that arava (willow) from Motza was brought to the altar on the Temple Mount for Sukkot, and the people of Motza were exempt by the king from paying taxes.
According to Josephus, Titus lived in Motza along with a population of 800 then. Motza became the place from which the Romans ruled.
During the Ottoman Empire, Motza was a resting station on the way to Jerusalem.
In 1850 Shaul Yehuda ben Shlomo, Yechezkel Yehuda (an immigrant from Bavel) and David Yellin (from Poland) bought land and water rights in Colonia (Motza).
They wanted to live in Motza and be self-sufficient. In this new era, Motza became the first place that Jews bought land. And Yellin was the first Jew who worked the land with his own hands. (The Ottomans forbade any sale of land to someone not Ottoman, so Jews who wanted to buy land, had to use tricks, pay graft and favors from James Fine of the British Consulate.
In 1861, they officially owned the land. They built a structure to house camels and donkeys of travels from Yaffo to Jerusalem.
In 1863, the Sheikh of the ara Mustafa Abu Ghosh destroyed all the buildings and disrupted all the commerce there until he was paid off.
Yehuda Ben Shalom, Yechezkel Yehuda and David Yellin paid production money to him. Shaul Yehuda gave up. He didn't see any blessing from his work, and he left the business. (Unfortunately he died of pneumonia at age 24.)
In 1866, the British finalized the purchase of the land, and David Yellin's son and Shaul Yehuda's brother inherited the land. In that same year, Yellin's workers were plowing the field when they hit a metal ring. Pulling it up, they saw it was attached to the cover of a chimney from an old building. They uncovered the building and found a Byzantine Roman structure completely intact.
They also found an ancient deep well with a tremendous amount of water.
The Turks paved a road from Yaffo to Jerusalem in 1869. Yellin built a second floor and large open porch. The lower floor was used as a stable. Before they paved the road, the trip from Jerusalem to Motza took about two hours. Riders rested their horses there before driving on to Jerusalem.
In addition, during those days the Walls around Jerusalem closed at dark, and Motza became a resting place for those who didn't think they could make it to Jerusalem before dark.
Between 1880 and 1881, Yellin tried to use the resources they had and create a factory there making roof tiles. This was the first factory outside the walls of Jerusalem, but the rooftiles cracked adn the business failed, closing after two years, and losing a fortune.
In 1890 Yellin sold the building to Bnei Brit and he built himself a little house for living quarters. It stands behind the synagogue.
This has recently come a museum, but unfortunately, it wasn't open when we were in Motza. You have to call before you come in order to see the house. (Next time.)
Families came and went in Motza, and we found out that one family that lived in the Khan itself, was the family of Israel Katz.
Khan to Synagogue
The Khan was turned into a synagogue more than a hundred years ago. The renovation was financed by 150 tourists from Hungary and Eastern Europe in 1905. They gave 3000 gold francs for the shul and school in the moshava.
The first farming families of Motza were very religious. Despite the fact that there was a famine and hunger, they did not work the land during Shemitta (sabbatical for the land).
Services are still held in Motza's synagogue daily.
We visited between the hours of prayer, and we walked around the synagogue. The walls are filled with clips about Motza's synagogue as well as notes of thank to those who donated to the shul.
It was renovated in 1961 and again in 1983.

Treasure in Motza
Inside the shul, we came upon a treasure - a book by Mazal Marseline Albucha. It was a giant volume dedicated tot he synagogue in 2009. Born in 1920 in Gruzia, Istanbul, Mazal's life story is told from Istanbul to Motza.
Over 60 years of writings are included in the book - invitations, notes from children, stories about members of the community. The book is a personal history of Motza in 1068 pages. Glancing through the book, we truly felt like we were being a personal tour of Motza and its community.
When we left the shul, we drove around the present day Motza. It is very rich in flowers and trees with all kinds of houses. As we drove around, the looks on people's faces seemed to say, "Look at that, outsiders!" It didn't seem that very many visitors ever venture their way. And perhaps that's as it should be, because the quiet unspoiled characteristic just seemed right for Motza.

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