Mention the town of Modi’in today and you think of young immigrants making a new home for themselves in Israel and commuting to work in hi-tech companies in either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. This “new” city, Israel’s fourth largest, is half way between the two metropolises.
But before 1996, when the first of the city’s modern 90,000-plus residents moved into the skilfully planned town, the name Modi’in conjured up a totally different picture. Then its claim to fame stemmed from incidents that took place thousands of years ago when a priest, Matityahu, together with his sons, known as the Maccabees, waged a guerilla war against the Greek-Syrian leader Antiochus and his army.
Across the road from today’s Modi’in, in the village of Shilat, Zohar Baram has built his Hasmonean Village to show us how ancient Modi’in looked. Baram, who has always been fascinated by all things Hasmonean, has taken part in many archaeological digs in the area and through these he has learnt how their homes looked and how they lived.
This knowledge, coupled with his enthusiasm for educating the younger generation, was the perfect recipe for the village which he and his late wife established almost 40 years ago to connect the younger ( and not so young) generation with their heritage.
Antiochus wasn’t out to kill the Jews, he just wanted to Hellenise them — turn them into good pagans and forget all about Shabbat, brit milah and all the other mitzvot around which Jews live their lives. So his decrees forbade all our Jewish rituals — on pain of death.
But for Matityahu, spiritual annihilation was worse than physical. And when it came to a physical battle, he and his sons had the strategic advantage over their enemies, as the Maccabees were at home in the hills and narrow paths around Modi’in and they also had the element of surprise when attacking the enemy camps.
The story of Matityahu’s miraculous military victory, together with the discovery of the vial of oil for the newly rededicated Temple, which lasted eight days instead of the expected one day, form the background to the festival of Chanukah.
Baram reconstructed a small village, the size of an authentic village in Hasmonean times, with a main road and stone houses on either side, into which you can walk to get an idea of how a home was laid out in ancient times. There is also an old synagogue, which was moved to the village and a reconstructed mikveh (ritual bath), central to every community.
In the “business section” of the village, there is a working olive press at which you can try your hand (it is tough) and a wine press for treading grapes.
The historic ovens are used today for making bread with visitors and you can start the process with the wheat at the threshing floor.
Down the road, the coin-maker will press you a piece of “ancient Hasmonean” currency, similar to those found in the cache of silver coins from this time recently discovered hidden in a rock crevice in the area.
Scattered around, you will see replicas of ancient farming implements — as well as many archaeological finds from the area, which have been brought to the village.
Because Baram’s village is so close to its genuine ancient counterpart, still being uncovered today, visitors are able to put the sites and activities into perspective.
There is also the opportunity to test your bow and arrow skills and maybe even write on parchment with a quill.
Baram’s village is open all year round to young and old visitors, school groups and tourists and is, of course, especially popular at this time of year. But he has branched out of this era and provided reconstructions of different agricultural eras in Jewish history, as well.
He has established an area known as Noah’s Village, which shows the beginning of immediate post-flood agriculture in wooden huts and caves; an oasis with tents and desert vegetation as it was when the Children of Israel left Egypt on their way to The Promised Land and a rural landscape from of the Mishnah and the Talmud times, when the Romans and Byzantines ruled the land. These zones have provided the sets for many television and film productions requiring a realistic biblical backdrop.