Thursday, May 24, 2012

Touching History

This time, their attention span did not waver. Between the hose, the buckets of dirt and the Indiana Jones-like adventure, the boys’ attention was riveted. We were at Ein Tzurim sifting through 3000 years of history. The dirt was from the Temple Mount where renovations to build a mosque left tons of earth upended and unexplored. The dirt gets sifted, rinsed, examined and sorted –  bucket after bucket after bucket. And this was our task. We joined other volunteers and professionals who have been looking for treasures for the past five years ago. (They estimate that they have another 15 years of work.) It is tedious work but we were anxious to get our hands dirty. In the Negev, we helped build with mud. Now near Mt. Scopus, we hoped that our mud work would help reconstruct our people’s past.

On the ride to the site, we dreamed about the rare objects we’d find. But we knew full well it was highly unlikely. How excited we were to be proven wrong! With a short introduction by the staff, we were off on our search.

When they weren’t spraying each other with the hose, the boys excitedly called out, "I Spy a mosaic tile." "I Spy a piece of glass." "I Spy a piece of metal." We really did unearth some treasures – and ones not just planted for tourists.

"Yes, that is Byzantine tile," the staff person said as she examined our tray. "And that pottery is from the Second Temple." "That's a bone fragment. It might have been part of a sacrifice. We are not sure,” she remarked before moving on to the next bucket.

Koby's find, a Roman glass bead, was apparently unique since it was bagged and set aside. I was excited to find a Roman roof tile and a First Temple pottery shard... until I placed them in the bucket with hundreds of other Roman tiles and First Temple shards.

But while our shards were fairly common place, the same was not true a day later. On Wednesday, it was revealed that archeologists uncovered a stamp from the First Temple period that mentions Bethlehem by name. This is the oldest evidence corroborating the Bible’s description that Bethlehem was a city in the Kingdom of Judah. And the timing could not be more fitting – Bethlehem plays a central role in the Book of Ruth, which we read on Shavu’ot.

As the holiday approaches, we are reminded that for Jews, history is more than an ancient story.  When we have an aliyah, we do not say God “gave” us the Torah but “gives” us the Torah. Though the revelation on Sinai occurred many thousands of years ago, it happens again in our day.  

Sifting through history is exciting. But for Jews, the past is really never behind us. We can touch it, for it is very much present.

Hag sameiah!

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