How Um el-Kanatir Became Ein Keshatot

The site known today as “Ein Keshatot” used to be called Um el-Kanatir. Why the name-change? And what was the site originally called?

Most of the names of the ancient Jewish communities in the Golan have been preserved, thanks to the local Arab inhabitants who heard the village names from their parents and elders, and continued using them. This is true throughout Israel, too. For example, the village once known in Arabic as Beisan preserved the name of the ancient city known in Hebrew as Bet Shean; the Arab village of Ein Shams kept the name of the Biblical city of Bet Shemesh.

The ancient Jewish communities in the Golan were concentrated in the central Golan Heights, between the areas of Katzrin and Hispin. In this area alone, close to 30 ancient synagogues have been discovered, most from the Byzantine Period. What were the names of these ancient Jewish villages? The basic condition for a village to keep its ancient name is continuous habitation in the village throughout the ages. But in the central Golan, there were hundreds of years during which there were no real communities; from the 8th century CE earthquake that destroyed the ancient villages, until the 13th century CE. Over this period of hundreds of years, the ancient names were lost! Ever since the 19th century, the ancient Jewish villages were given Arabic names by the local population who did not know the old local Hebrew names. And so we find an ancient synagogue in a village known as “Katzrin,” which means “fort” or “stronghold” in Arabic. There are also synagogues in Achmediya, Asaliya, and Dabiya – all Arabic names. Even “Yehudiya” – an ancient Jewish village near a popular hiking trail – is an Arabic name given by locals, centuries after the Jews were gone. They assumed that the ancient ruins they saw, were from the time the village was inhabited by Jews.

פתח בית הכנסת, תמונה מספרם של קוהל וואצינגר

קשתות המעיין, תמונה מספרם של קוהל וואצינגר

Why were the villages abandoned?

The ancient Jewish villages in the Golan made their living from growing olives and producing olive oil, which they exported to (what is today) Syria. This agricultural choice of growing olives was directly related to the fact that the land of the central Golan is rocky and not compatible for other crops. But the land in the southern Golan, on the other hand, is easier to farm, and a variety of crops can be grown there. In the southern Golan, the villages that were destroyed by the fierce earthquake in the 8th century CE were able to bounce back and rehabilitate themselves relatively quickly, and the area was not abandoned. The names of the villages in this area were passed on from one generation to the next and have been preserved to this day. Village names such as Nov, Kfar Haruv, and Tzemach, which were mentioned in the ancient sources (such as Tosefta Shvi’it) have survived intact, and are still used today.

How did the name change from Um el-Kanatir to Ein Keshatot?

The synagogue at Ein Keshatot was discovered in the late 19th century by a Scottish traveler named Laurence Oliphant. In his day, the local Bedouins called the spring near the synagogue by the name “Um el-Kanatir,” which means “the Site of the Arches.” They chose this name due to the impressive stone arches that were built above the spring in the Roman Period.

When Rehavam Ze’evi (“Ghandi”) was Israel’s Minister of Tourism in 2001, he initiated the beginning of the excavation of the ancient synagogue. Shortly afterwards, he was murdered by terrorists in Jerusalem. As a way of commemorating him, the site was renamed “Keshatot Rehavam” (“Rehavam’s Arches”). This name was not authorized by the Israel Government Names Committee, which chose instead “Ein Keshatot” (“Spring of the Arches”), due to the unique stone arches that stand over the spring.

What about the ancient name of the village? The name “Um el-Kanatir” is a relatively modern Arabic name for the site, and unfortunately we do not know the original name of the ancient village.

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