Prayer, devotion, and community among the Samaritans

Not far from Nablus, in the west bank, we arrive at the small village of Kiryat Luza early in the morning during Succot (the Feast of the Tabernacles) and we join the early morning prayer of the Samaritans.

This small group are a small ethnoreligious group who date their ancestry to the Biblical tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Their roots are ancient, by some accounts beginning with the entry into Canaan, or by others beginning with the Babylonian exile. In any extent, this indigenous group broke off from mainstream Judaism during the time of the kingdom of Judah (between the ninth and the fourth century, BC).

Samaritans believe that theirs is the true religion of the Israelites, as mainstream Judiasm underwent changes during the Babylonian exile.

During morning prayers, sons, fathers, and grandfather commune and read an ancient text. The air of devotion is palatable in the synagogue.

The two Samaritan communities are very small, totaling about 800 people altogether. About 400 live in Kiryat Luza, and the rest live in the Israeli town of Holon. Despite being recognized as a religious entity, the religious monopoly in Israel (the Chief Rabbinate) requires that Samaritans undergo a conversion to Judaism in or to be considered as Jews. During the ceremony we witnessed we were amazed to see some visitors from the Ultra-Orthodox community as well as some discussions between the two groups.

Most Samaritans speak Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, or a mix and their prayers are in Samaritan Hebrew or Samaritan Aramaic, written in the Samaritan alphabet (which is related to ancient proto-Hebrew, and is undependable by Hebrew readers).

Following the indoor prayer session, all head out for the outdoor ceremony on the hillside of Mount Gerizim.

Abandoned

Seeing decrepit and abandoned buildings does something to my soul. It’s not every abandoned building, mind you, but some are interesting. It’s often the mix between old and new, deserted and party sites, graffiti and trash that move me. One such place is an old abandoned army base called Beit Zeit Camp. It is situated between the town of Beit Zeit and Ein Karem in the Jerusalem forest. Easy to get there, and beautiful.

In the early 1950s this was an army base built as a huge emergency storage facility for the Jerusalem brigades in cases of a Jordanian incursion into Jerusalem or its environs. The equipment was all removed during the 1967 Six Day War. Later on the base became a general emergency storage facility and was used by the Logistic Brigade until it was finally abandoned around 2012.

24mm, 1/250, f 8

A mixture of half-destroyed buildings, trash, and graffiti.

As you take the winding road, you will pass many heaps of the buildings on your right. Keep going, after about 1km, you arrive at the area where the army did not demolish the building.

28mm, 1/250 @ f 11, HDR
70 mm, 1/200 @ 11, HDR
Even Frisbee enjoys the ruins
70 mm, 1/125 @ f 11, HDR

As one moves further down the road, the buildings are still standing. They are a mixture of decrepit and abandoned structures and hang-outs.

38mm, 1/8, f14, HDR

If you want to venture in and take a peek, these are very long buildings, built into the hillside, and are sort of bunkers. Inside, you will find a mixture of different things. You have some tables and sleeping areas, apparently inhabited by passers-by.

41mm, 1/50 @ f 14, HDR
For some of the buildings, the graffiti is beautiful and intense.
45mm, 0.6 sec @ f 14, HDR
If you want to venture in, you can see that people have recently been here. There are paper cups, matches, bottles, and some clothes scattered around.
53mm, 0.4 sec @ f 14, HDR
30mm, 1/10 @ f 14, HDR

These long, cavernous bunkers are filled with interesting art, and apparently some interesting installations.

28mm, 0.8 sec @ f 14

And for some reasons, heaps and heaps of bottles.

31 mm, 3.2 sec @ f 16

All of these structures fit organically into the beautiful landscape. It’s a mixture of beauty and filth, old and new, utilitarian and stoner-heaven. Definitely worth a visit.