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Beit Jamal Monastery... a little known Gem in the Judean Hills

Last Fall I travelled to Israel to spend Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year with my family.  It's a great time to visit because families naturally get together at the Holidays - and so I could visit with alot of the people I wanted to see, all at once.

For the Festive Dinner on the eve of the Holiday, we went to the home of one of my sister's sisters-in-law (she has quite a few!) in Haifa.  I was admiring some of the beautiful pottery dishes that she had displayed in her Living Room -- I love pottery and dishes, and I had never seen anything like these.  Dafna told me about this wonderful place where she had bought her dishes - it was a Monastery, hidden away in the Judean Hills, called "Beit Jamal".  And of course, I asked her to tell me exactly how to get there....

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Turns out, Beit Jamal is not such a faraway destination!  How many thousands of times had I travelled the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.... passing by the Monastery at Latrun which is just at the spot where the Judean Hills turn into the Central Plain.  I'd stopped there many times to buy Local Honey and Wine, which is made by the Monks, and to enjoy the extensive and beautiful gardens.  I never knew that if you turned off the Highway and went the OTHER way.... there was an even more interesting site to visit.

The next Saturday, my Sister and I set off for Beit Jamal.  Turns out, it only took us about 20 minutes to get there from her home - who knew it was so close? 

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We found the turn-off that took us onto a winding dirt road that meandered back and forth, slowly up the hill.  At the sides of the road grew ancient Olive Trees, and we could see goats lazily grazing nearby - the view as we climbed was breathtaking!  We seemed to be going nowhere, when we took a turn that suddenly brought the Monastery complex into view.

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Founded in 1919 by Salesian monks from Italy, it was built on the site of a 5th Century Church. In Hebrew the site is known as Beit Jamal – but there are also references to it as Beit Gemal or Beit Jimal. The name of the site is said to be from its local, historical name, Kfar Gamla, alledgedy so named for Rabban Gamliel I – president of the Sanhedrin (The Highest court in the Land in Talmud times). The Christian tradition believes that Rabban Gamliel I was buried here, as were St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and Nikodimos. In fact, in 1873 – what was said to be their remains were removed, for re-burial on Mt. Zion. 

The monastery is also home to the Sisters of Bethlehem --  Approximately 30 holy women who have taken vows of silence, and now live here in their own Convent.  These women produce wonderful hand painted pottery and operate a small store on the premises.  They sell their handiwork, as well as Local Honey and Wine. Work in the store is rotated every few years and the four nuns who work in the store are permitted to speak. 

I couldn't resist buying as much of this wonderful pottery as I could hand carry back on the plane - and although I wish I could keep it all, I have put some of it up for sale in my store!

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If you love pottery like I do, the store is a wonderful place to browse (and buy...), and you can also visit the church and stroll the gardens.  During daylight hours, you can picnic there - or in the surrounding hills.  Live concerts of classical music are often held inside the church.  If you ever visit the Holy Land, Beit Jamal probably will not be on your itinerary - but if you have the time, it is a fascinating place to visit - and really not far off the beaten path.



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Reader Comments  (9)

buyzjewelry
buyzjewelry | September 20th 2011 at 1316556756

I agree, they are gorgeous and such detail, not to mention the spiritual story behind the crafted art.
twysp2
twysp2 | September 21st 2011 at 1316623943

What a neat blog to share with us! I love, love, love the pottery, colors and designs and the story behind them. Thanks so much for sharing.
Fredrick Nijm
Fredrick Nijm | September 21st 2011 at 1316630054

Love that pottery. WOW! Thanks for sharing.
Donna's Stuff & More
Donna's Stuff & More | September 21st 2011 at 1316632243

These are real pieces of art! Love them!
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BeewitchingItems | September 21st 2011 at 1316638784

Beautiful blog and also beautiful pottery
Tuckerstuff
Tuckerstuff | September 21st 2011 at 1316657364

That's what I love about places with true culture. Even everyday items have a cultural history and meaning behind them. Great blog and thanks. I like the Green plate (second photo from the top). Very Nice!
Pacesetter
Pacesetter | September 21st 2011 at 1316664549

OH I just Loved reading this blog, Ayuni, thank you!!! I have only read about the history and secret gems of Israel -my favorite writers are Bodie and Brock Thoene and I just love when you bring their stories to life :)
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Lynn (AKA) Linda | September 21st 2011 at 1316670831

Don't you just love that. Love hand painted artwork on dishes, or even on porcelain. I have many I bought over from Turkey, but the most expensive piece and precious one I have is from a Turkish gal, who used to work next to me when I was in a mall. I swear she became my little friend, forever. She has finished school, became an engineer, in Ca. She runs a famous company. But we shared so many moments, its like she came over as much as possible to talk and learn from me. (haha) true. I had went to her graduation, took photos free lance, and since her family could not come from Turkey, I gave her her copies and took her gifts. After she left for Ca, I received this gorgeous plate from her, via mail. Thank God it was all in one piece. Sorry Ayuni, this plate brought memories. So I hope whom ever buys has wonder memories to share one day.
Royal Presence
Royal Presence | September 22nd 2011 at 1316731253

Beautiful pottery and beautiful story!

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