The Samaritan Community of Holon
Located in a working-class town south of Tel-Aviv, the Samaritan community of Holon is along one street and adjoining alleys. This humble congregation is well integrated into Israeli life and culture, but it zealously preserves its fascinating unique Samaritan heritage.
Who Are the Samaritans?
Best known in the Christian world for the “Good Samaritan” parable, the Samaritans are one of the oldest religious and ethnic groups in the world. Claiming to be descendants of the biblical northern Israelites tribes, the Samaritans thrived in the Roman and Byzantine periods. Sadly, continued Christian and Muslim persecutions dwindled the community, and in 1918 only 145 members were left. Today there are more than 800 Samaritans, split between their town next to Mount Gerizim, in the West Bank, and their community in Holon. The Samaritans believe in the first six books of the bible, and argue that Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, is God’s favored sacred place. Once they had a temple complex on the Mount Gerizim, and to this day they congregate on the Mountain on their holidays. Most moving is their Pesach ceremony, in which they get into religious extasy while performing the rite of animal sacrifice.
The Samaritans and Holon
On the turn of the 20th century, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine, rented a room in a Samaritan owned house in Jaffa. Developing a strong friendship with the landlord, he studied the Samaritan culture and history, and eventually became an expert in the field. Later, as the second president of state of Israel, he used his influence to allocate a plot in Holon for Samaritans who wished to live in Israel.
Visiting the Samaritan Community in Holon
The community lives mostly in humble sized homes, set along their main street, Ben-Amram. At first the neighborhood looks like any other, but stone plaques engraved with Samaritan text give out the community’s identity. This is the Samaritan version of Mezuzah, believed to provide the house with divine protection. The central monument of the community is its synagogue. At first sight it looks like a Jewish synagogue, as it has a Menorah decoration over its top. However, Samaritan Inscriptions are present here as well, and the building is oriented towards Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem. Its interior is plain, with carpets over the floors. Even more confusing is the fact that during prayers, the Samaritans will bow on their knees. It all looks to much like the liturgy in a Muslim mosque. But as their representative explains, with a smile – “Our liturgy is 3,000 years old. If Muslim liturgy looks similar it is because they are copying from us, not the other way around”. The community is warm and welcoming, proud of their heritage, and happy to explain it to any visitor.
A visit to the Samaritan community in Holon can be combined with a guided day tour of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv.
“This community is truly fascinating. They remind me so much of the history of the Jews. Both once thrived, and then were persecuted for centuries. Both dwindled, and today both are thriving again!” ,team member, Danny “the Digger” Herman