This story takes place 1,700 years ago. It is fiction, but it is based on real facts that were unearthed during the archaeological excavations at Katzrin. When you see a bolded word, look at the glossary to read more about Jewish life in Katzrin.
Ben felt that time was running out. The rumor about buried treasure in Katzrin was spreading quickly throughout the Golan Heights, and if he didn't act soon, someone else would find it. He cornered his friends, Sahar and her younger sister Shir, as they carried bales of wheat to the thresher in their house. "Somewhere in our village is a horde of coins; maybe 9,000 of them!" he stammered, his face flushed with excitement. "Another wild goose chase, Ben?" Sahar asked skeptically. "Count me out."
"You've got to believe me," he cried, as he hurried them down one of the narrow lanes that separated the stone houses from the synagogue. His eyes darted up and down the muddy street. "My grandmother is old fashioned," he whispered. "Last week she started hiding coins around the house. Like many people, she's silly enough to think it will bring her good fortune. I think the rumor has something to do with this crazy superstition." Ben paused for an instant to catch his breath, and then he renewed his plea more fervently than ever. "I need your help to round up the hevrah (group of friends)," he begged. Sahar stopped him before he could continue. "We've heard enough," she said with a hint of adventure on her face. "We're convinced."
In the morning the hevrah gathered excitedly in their favorite meeting spot; the grand courtyard of the synagogue. When they weren't tending the grape vines or pitching in around the kitchen, the hevrah loved to play here because the rush of people coming and going always promised mystery and mischief- today more than ever.
"Where's Yossi?" Sahar asked, straining so her voice could be heard above the hubbub of the morning crowd. "We need his help. He knows every hiding place in Katzrin." A well-dressed merchant, preoccupied with his business, bumped into her as he hurried into the synagogue for a meeting. He was mumbling something about Uzi, a talented, yet peculiar, craftsman who once lived close to the synagogue. "His silly superstitions deserted him when he needed them most," the man laughed to himself. "He's been gone for years now, vanished without a trace."
Sahar's eavesdropping was interrupted by her sister's shrill voice. "I think Yossi is helping his father at the beit habad (olive press)," she shouted.
Ben kicked the dirt around him. "We'll never find the treasure without him," he groaned.
"Then we have no choice," Sahar piped up. "We've got to convince his dad to let him go with us."
Determined, the hevrah elbowed their way through a sea of important-looking men who had just come from the synagogue. They were arguing about the details of a lawsuit, and something they said made Sahar stop in her tracks.
"The law is very clear," a tall, lanky man explained patiently to his colleague. "Rabbi Meir says the property belongs to the person who found it."
"You didn't read far enough," the shorter man shot back, waving his hand dismissively in the air. "A bit further on, Rabbi Judah says that if you find an item that has something unusual inside, you must make a public announcement so the owner has a chance to claim it."
The squabble continued as the men rounded the corner and entered the courtyard of Rabbi Avun's house. They were anxious to discuss the case with the respected leader. As their voices trailed off, Sahar realized that her friends had disappeared. "I've got to keep my mind on one thing at a time," she giggled and then ran to join the others.
Yossi was turning the heavy wheel of the olive press. Since the last barrel of olives had just been squeezed, and the valuable oil flowed slowly from the openings below the press, Yossi's father gave in to the hevrah's appeal. Within minutes, the sleuths were hunting hidden treasure! They ran to the olive and pomegranate grove first. The gnarled old tress atood like guards around the village. That's when it hit her. A smile lit up Sahar's face. "I know where the coins are hidden," she screamed.
The children were tired and sweaty when they finally slipped into the deserted stone dwelling. The cool air inside revived their spirits. Uzi's vacant house was much like theirs. The kitchen, multipurpose room, and storeroom were on the first floor. Alongside the window wall stood a wooden ladder, leading to the loft where the family slept in small rooms.
"What are we doing here?" Ben asked nervously. Eight pairs of eyes turned to Sahar expectantly. "You said yourself," she replied, "that the hidden treasure must have something to do with the superstition of hiding money to bring good luck." Ben nodded in agreement."While we were standing in the courtyard," Sahar smiled,"I heard some guy talking to himself about how superstitious Uzi was, and that he has been missing for years." Understanding dawned on several faces, but Ben was still confused. "I put two and two together," Sahar explained with a touch of exasperation in her voice. "He must have been like your grandmother!" Ben smiled sheepishly. "Now I get it."
"The most obvious place to hide the treasure is in the storeroom," Yossi reasoned. "So we won't look there." He turned instinctively to the courtyard. The oven was crumbling and large clay jugs lined the northern wall. Sahar remembered the second conversation she had overheard that morning. "Even if we find the hidden coins," she wondered alound, "do you think we'll be able to keep them?"
Before anyone could answer, Ben threw a jagged rock at the largest jug. Shards of pottery exploded over the dirt floor and a sea of bronze coins rolled to their feet. "Wow," whooped Ben. "There must be thousands of them here!" The hevrah fell upon the treasure, scooping up handfuls of old coins. "We're rich," Ben screeched.
"Are we?" Sahar whispered.
What do you think?
Treasure — A hoard of bronze coins from the 4th century was found at Katzrin on the last day of excavations. Experts think they were buried to bring good luck to the owner.
Thresher — Several generations lived together in a large family compound. Each home in the compound had a thresher. The thresher was used to separate grain from its husk.
Synagogue — The synagogue was built during the 4th century CE. An earthquake probably destroyed it in 747. During the Talmudic era, the synagogue was a true “beit kenesset” (house of gathering, or community center.) It was used for studying, court cases, and meetings of all kinds.
Olive press — During the 4th-8th centuries, the economy in Katzrin was based on producing olive oil. Olive oil was used for cooking, and it was burned in ancient lamps.
Rabbi Meir — The conversation is based on the Mishnah, Baba Metzia 2:1
Rabbi Avun — Archaeologists found a stone inscribed “Rabbi Avun, rest in honor.” In 1988, a resident of modern Katzrin claimed he saw the spirit of Rabbi Avun hovering near the ancient site.
Cool air — Houses in Katzrin were made of basalt, a dark gray volcanic rock common in the Golan Heights. Basalt kept houses comfortable year round.
Kitchen — A domed oven in the kitchen heated the house. When bad weather prevented cooking outdoors, families cooked in the kitchen. Animal dung was burned for fuel.
Multipurpose room — Families sat on benches and mats. They stored food on high shelves away from rodents and household animals.
Storeroom — The storeroom was cluttered with tools, utensils, and food, such as lentils, sesame seeds, figs, and garlic.
Small rooms — Rooms were about 6 feet by 9 feet. The walls were plastered with mud, and the floors were tiled with smooth basalt stones.