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The mosaic floor from the Byzantine period (500-600 AD) at the synagogue in Maon-Nirim in the Western Negev was displayed this week at a ceremony opening the mosaic to the public. The original size of the mosaic floor was 7.80 by 3.70 meters but parts of it were damaged during the paving of the road to Kibbutz Nir Oz in 1957.
At the ceremony, Efi Stenzler KKL-JNF World Chairman, welcomed and greeted the special guests. "Sandy Galet and her granddaughter Emma have come all the way from Canada to witness the realization of a special vision, a vision that this site, the ancient Synagogue of Maon, will once again be visited by locals and tourists alike, connecting us to our history, culture, religion and land.
"Emma has celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in Israel this summer and in expressing her identity with Israel, she suggested that young people celebrating their Bar and Bat Mitzvah could mark the occasion at this ancient synagogue and continue the ways of the children of Maon from those ancient times. I think this is a wonderful suggestion!
"Dear Sandy, the writing on the mosaic floor says that the entire congregation of Maon contributed their money to create this mosaic. Three residents of Maon in particular, Ishu, Tama, and Yehuda, contributed three dinars. We do not know if they were members of one family or what their occupations were. We only know what they believed: they believed - like you - that all Bnei Yisrael - the people of Israel - are responsible for each other.
"Today, Monday, the fifth of Nissan 5769, 30th March 2009, we are re-dedicating the ancient mosaic floor in the Maon synagogue. Thanks to you, thousands of visitors - Israelis and tourists from abroad - will be able to come and re-connect to their heritage in this special place. You are continuing the path of Ishu, Tama, and Yehuda, whose names are inscribed on the synagogue floor forever."
Suddenly, a warning siren signifying a rocket attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip sounded in the middle of the ceremony, giving significance and validity to the Jewish presence at this site, 1500 years after the floor was built.
The mosaic floor and the remains of the synagogue were discovered during rescue digs by the Antiquities Authorities in 1957. Faulty environmental conditions and lack of maintenance resulted in a deterioration in the conditions for preserving the floor in recent years and in 2006 the mosaic was therefore removed from the site and moved to the laboratory at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem for treatment and care.
KKL-JNF, the Antiquities Authority and the Eshkol Regional Council cooperated in the reconstruction and renovation project and KKL-JNF participated in the renovations of the synagogue through the generous contribution of Sandy Galet from Canada. KKL-JNF also completed the development work for tourists by erecting signs, paving access roads, a new entrance from road 23 and walking paths, and, in addition, making the site accessible to the disabled. A picnic ground and hiking routes in the nearby forest are also planned in the future. The mosaic and the archaeological remains of the ancient synagogue were preserved by a team of mosaic experts from the Antiquities Authority.
Shuka Dorfman, head of the Antiquities Authority, greeted Ms. Galet warmly. "I think that without the contribution of Sandy to renovate the mosaic floor, we would not have accomplished the work of preserving this site, which joins the past, present and future of the Jewish People. This is a wonderful contribution for future generations."
Haim Yalin, Head of the Eshkol Regional Council, stated. "We are striving to develop the area - despite the Kassams and the security situation - and this is only the beginning. We intend to fill the entire area of our regional council with tourist sites. Anyone who wants to see how Nature and antiquities integrate can find them both here. 1500 years ago there was co-existence at this place - which was a Byzantine center - with a Jewish synagogue at its focal point."
Rabbi Shmuel Shukrun, Rabbi of the Eshkol Regional Council, said, "I imagine the Holy One, Blessed-be-He, watching from on high and observing what a wonderful people we have. Sandy has come from the Diaspora and wants to give a gift to her granddaughter Emma, who has celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. She has given her an ancient synagogue. The dynasty is being continued! We are connecting to our roots, to the People of Israel and to the Creator of the World. We see a synagogue from the period of the Talmud here, evidence of our past and of our eternity." Rabbi Shukrun blessed Emma and the students who attended the ceremony with the traditional blessing that Ya'akov Avinu - Jacob, our forefather - gave to his grandsons.
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