The Age of Empires Strikes Back

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Returning customers, especially for the same tour, is very encouraging. Both pictures are of today’s group at the Metropolitan Museum.

The right-hand picture is of returning customers from last year. Mrs. Gitta Neufeld, head of educational development at Allegra Franco School of Educational Leadership (second from right) attended my tour in June 2017, and hired me as a teacher at Allegra Franco. I am looking forward to beginning my second year teaching there.

Take it from her:

(amidst the hustle and bustle of the Met’s closing hours – this is being cleaned up slightly, but bear with us for 22 seconds!)


Superman and Tisha b’Av

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Superman - Man of Steel - Image from:
Cover image from:

It was last Shabbat in the Golan Heights when I had a profound and timely experience: Being in the land that was bequeathed to Reuven, Gad and Manasseh, while we read the Torah portion that discusses it (Num. 32:33), right before Tisha b’Av, the day in which we deal with the destruction of that area.

I was asked to address the youth in an agricultural community on Shabbat afternoon, and was honestly a bit hesitant. It is one thing to share my story with American educators and students: I grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City, and that comes with a unique perspective that is very valuable in the diaspora. But it is quite another to speak to kids who grew up in the land, and perhaps even take it for granted?

That is when I thought about Superman and Tisha b’Av, a concept which I have used in summer camp, and which has worked with kids and teenagers on several occasions, with surprising effects. So what is this idea?

Tisha b’Av brings out the worst in religion: Suffering, mourning, synagogue and fasting, and the best part is, it is in the midst of the summer vacation. No swimming for over a week!

It is a challenge to engage youth who are already jaded or perhaps overstimulated from attempts to make Judaism alive, relevant and meaningful to them. And yet, I find Tisha b’Av to be a special opportunity to do exactly that – if I prompt the question of relevance from the start.

The talk with the youth revolved around two main ideas.

  1. Tisha b’Av has the status of Mo’ed – generally understood as a ‘holiday’, but clearly not a happy one. Mo’ed actually means “an appointment in time” (e.g. Gen. 18:14), and just as Passover is a time for Freedom, and Sukkot is a time for Joy, Tisha b’Av is an annual meeting in time. But a time for what? For loss, mourning and destruction (Lam. 1:15)
  2. Tisha b’Av didn’t happen because we cried. We cried because it was Tisha b’Av. Just as we say that we left Egypt on Nissan because it is a time of redemption, so too all of the ‘bad stuff’ is associated with Tisha b’Av, because it is a designated time for destruction. Why? Why do we need such a time?


Superman and Smallville

Photo from:

Background: The origin story of Superman relates that he was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father Jor-El and his mother Lara, moments before Krypton’s destruction…. Discovered and adopted by a farm couple from Kansas, the child is raised as Clark Kent and imbued with a strong moral compass. Early in his childhood, he displays various superhuman abilities, which, upon reaching maturity, he resolves to use for the benefit of humanity through a “Superman” identity (from Wikipedia: Superman).

The 2001 series Smallville follows Clark Kent in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas, before he becomes known as Superman (from Wikipedia: Smallville).

The main idea: Upon discovering his true identity, Kal-El / Clark Kent’s ambitions and life goals change. He is imbued with deep purpose, and knows that life as he knew it was no longer the same.

The idea of Tisha b’Av is an awakening, a profound realization that all of the symbols that we hold dear, from the Promised Land to the Two Temples in Jerusalem – could be lost. As long as we have not fulfilled our full potential, there is no compromise. We cannot settle for mediocrity.

It is painful. It is cruel. It is uncompromising. And precisely because of that, it is the most meaningful holiday, and the most hopeful. Jewish tradition says that the Messiah is born on Tisha b’Av. It tells us that we have a superpower, that we are meant for greatness, and that we should never compromise.

May this be the last Tisha b’Av in mourning. May we merit to bask in the Light of Truth, and rejoice in the true beauty of a united and rebuilt Jerusalem.

Some of the youths’ responses (translation, and Hebrew below):

My takeaway is that I will never give up until I find myself in a place where I am making a difference, and fully utilizing my capabilities

…that I am really part of something big, whether it is the Jewish People or Humanity as a whole

Truth be told, it was one of the more interesting discussions, it…gave me a different perspective on Tisha b’Av and also on our lives as a whole in Eretz Yisrael, and that we need to appreciate our lives here…



Never Again?

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A Rova boy spotted on the ruins of a crusader structure.. picture by my neighbour Y. Bencamoun, who captured me in contemplation
A Rova boy spotted on the ruins of a crusader structure.. picture by my neighbour Y. Bencamoun, who captured me in contemplation

You can take kid out of the Rova, but you can’t take the Rova out of the kid.

Growing up in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter in the Old City (“Rova” – רובע means quarter in Hebrew), I did not see closed fences or ‘do not enter’ signs as an obstacles. From age 8, I would hop from roof to roof and climb walls and pipes to explore the web of connected rooftops and buildings. I thought I was Spiderman (my parents thought something different entirely).

Revisiting my old stomping grounds, during one of the busiest times of the year (the annual Jerusalem Lights Festival has thankfully brought lots of traffic into the Old City), it is hard to get a clear and quiet view of the Kotel – the Western Wall – the remains of what was once a glorious Temple. But the Rova boy in me saw the ruins of an ancient building, and I instinctively knew what to do. Climbing to the top of the structure, I was able to sit alone and contemplate, and I would like to share with you my thoughts from the ruins of Jerusalem.


The Shattering of Icons

Rova Boy sitting atop an old ruin

Sitting atop what was undoubtedly a shelter and secure place at one time, overlooking a place that combines shattered hopes and despair and a source of prayers and millennia-old commitment, I was struck by the lack of imagination that besets us – as humanity, and as the People of Israel.

The fast of the 17th of Tammuz is the 2nd in a series of Four Fast Days (depending on how you count them), relating specifically to the destruction of the Temples. Several things happened on that day, and they all have a common denominator: Shattering of icons –

  • The Tablets were Shattered by Moshe, in response to the dancing around the Golden Calf (Exodus 32)
  • The Walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (ca. 586 BCE)

Several other severe deeds were done, but these two captures the spirit of the day: We had something which we thought was eternal, untouchable, incorruptible, and it was shattered.

Time and again, our sacred icons have been shattered: The Holocaust shattered century old establishments; 1492 ended the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry; Two Temples were destroyed, the Mishkan in Shiloh was destroyed (Jeremiah 7:12-14), entry into the Promised Land was snatched out of our hands, and the list goes on.

What about our lives? How many times have we been so sure of something, just to have our faith in it shattered? Job security, health, relationships, cherished family and friends.. and what about humanity? How many scientific truths have been shattered, how many social ideologies have delivered false messiahs?

And so, sitting on the top of a ruin, I wonder: Can we truly stand and say “never again?”about anything?

Lack of imagination is perhaps our worst sin. We cannot imagine losing a whole lot of things, and this may skew our judgement. Like Rabbi Zekharia ben Avkulas, who jeopardised the survival of Jerusalem because he could not factor the possibility of losing Jerusalem and the Temple into his calculations (B. Gittin 55a), we proudly look at our current State of Israel and say “never again!”

I am not suggesting that, G-d forbid, another holocaust is possible, or that our State will be destroyed. I surely hope not. What I am saying is that we need to be wary of the possibility of tremendous consequence, if we cannot fathom our icons being shattered. To just stand by and do nothing at the rise of radicalism and hate, divisiveness and disasters around the world, and so on.

On the flip side, it is perhaps just as terrible a sin to lack the imagination of what is possible.

How many times have we despaired and given up? How many times have we had the temerity to say that things will never get better? Both in our personal lives, and in the world as a whole?

Be it the generation of the desert who insisted “For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death” (Exodus 16:3), or the skeptical dignitary (Shalish) who said “Even if G-d were to make windows in the sky, could this [surplus and abundance after a hunger and draught] come to pass?” (II Kings 7) – we fail to imagine just how good things could get. And we give up, or give in.

Our daily life is surely beyond the wildest imagination of any of the prophets, and we have the chutzpah to give up? To think it is hopeless, because of a passing political / social / economic or even personal issue?

Looking at the Temple Mount, all of this came together for me with one story. The famous story of Rabbi Akiva (B. Makkot 24b), who looked at the same place – witnessing the utter destruction of the Second Temple, and started laughing. Laughing, as his comrades were weeping.

On another occasion they were ascending to Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. When they arrived at Mount Scopus and saw the site of the Temple, they rent their garments…When they arrived at the Temple Mount, they saw a fox that emerged from the site of the Holy of Holies. They began weeping, and Rabbi Akiva was laughing. They said to him: For what reason are you laughing? 

Rabbi Akiva said to them: For what reason are you weeping?

They said to him: This is the place concerning which it is written: “And the non-priest who approaches shall die” (Numbers 1:51), and now foxes walk in it; and shall we not weep?

Rabbi Akiva said to them: That is why I am laughing, as it is written, when God revealed the future to the prophet Isaiah: “And I will take to Me faithful witnesses to attest: Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah”(Isaiah 8:2). Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? He clarifies the difficulty: Uriah prophesied during the First Temple period, and Zechariah prophesied during the Second Temple period, as he was among those who returned to Zion from Babylonia. 

Rather, the verse established that fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah is dependent on fulfillment of the prophecy of Uriah.

In the prophecy of Uriah it is written: “Therefore, for your sake Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become rubble, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest” (Micah 3:12)…In the prophecy of Zechariah it is written: “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). 

Until the prophecy of Uriah with regard to the destruction of the city was fulfilled I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would not be fulfilled, as the two prophecies are linked. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is evident that the prophecy of Zechariah remains valid. The Gemara adds: The Sages said to him, employing this formulation: Akiva, you have comforted us; Akiva, you have comforted us.

I guess that above all, the thought that comforted me on this day is that just as our tragedies were a shock and an awakening, so-too are our blessings. The best times are yet to come!

The verse “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4) – carved into the wall a few minutes away from my house. This place is shared by three different schools at recess.. who would have imagined?

Summer 2017

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Summer Public Tanach Tours are over

Public tours will resume shortly, and a schedule will be posted soon.

It has been a long summer, with nearly 20 Tanach and Jewish History tours running at the Met. The summer Public Tanach Tour series is now complete, and we are gearing up for the year.

Follow Torah Intermedia to learn about upcoming tours, lectures and programs, as well as articles and reviews.

Last Tanach Tour Complete
Paying tribute to the “met sticker” tradition.. last one out of the museum today, Sunday, August 27


Thank you so much for an amazing tour of the MET with my children! You were so engaging with my children and managed to still fill the rest of the tour for us adults with lots of meaningful content! I will recommend you to anyone looking for a great tour guide of the MET and specifically a Jewish tour. You were great!!!

Rabbi Yochai “Yogi” Robkin
Director of outread of DATA at Plano, Texas
Tanach Highlights Tour on August 17
“Our extended family, ranging in age from 7 to 65, enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Met with Nachliel. He planned scavenger hunts, decryption games, and more to keep the younger crowd interested while engaging the adults with his vast knowledge. The tour brought the museum to life. I highly recommend it!”
J. Robkin, from Atlanta, GA
Tanach Highlights Family Tour, August 17

Robkin Family collage 1

MJE July 30 collage
Manhattan Jewish Experience, July 30

Thank you Nachliel providing us all a great understanding of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires and their connection to Tanach!

Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal
Manhattan Jewish Experience
Mechon Hadar, July 21

We so enjoyed having Nachliel as our guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our group had been studying rabbinic materials about idolatry and Nachliel helped bring those issues to life through the Met’s collections. His comfort both with the ancient and classic sculpture we looked at as well as his fluency in Bible and rabbinic literature were terrific!

Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Rosh Yeshiva, Mechon Hadar
New York, NY
Tour took place on July 21

“Fascinating…Truly eye opening into the world we only hear about. The connection of Ancient Artifacts and the Tanach is explained and put into perspective, especially in this troubled time. This tour only reinforces our Historical connection to the Holy Land of Israel”

Jeff and Chery Klein from Monsey, NY. Participated July 23


This your is a great way to be introduced to the history of the Ancient Near East! It’s very comprehensive and spans a pretty good range of time. I also loved that it was grounded (corroborated) by passages of Tanakh. I loved seeing the intersection between the written record of history and Torah! Personally, I would have loved to spend more time on the text itself, but it’s hard to do it all in under two hours. I recommend this for anyone who’s interested in the A.N.E.!

Malka Rappaport from Crown Heights, NY. Participated Wednesday, July 12


Powerful presentation of the era of kings – Regional Kingdoms and Empires…the separation of Israel and Judea and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian diaspora. Nachliel is a passionate guide and very informed and well traveled in order to present his material.

Notes were very well researched and presented. This tour was made even more powerful during the period of the three weeks between Tammuz and Tisha b’Av.

– Aliyana Wasserman, Rosanne Koenigson from Edison, NJ. Participated Sunday, July 16


“I’ve lived in New York City my entire life and have been through the Metropolitan Museum of Art…many times. Nachliel made me feel like I was touring these wings for the first time.”
Mrs. Susan Strassburger. Participated Sunday, June 18
“Nachliel is exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about his twin loves – Torah and Archeology. He showed us the importance of contextualizing II Melakhim and Yirmiyahu in its Ancient Near Eastern setting…We moved at a rapid-fire pace…”
Ms. Sarah Robinson, Tanach Teacher at Kushner Hebrew Academy. Participated Sunday, June 18
June 18 collage 1
Some action from Sunday, June 18’s tour

Tanach Tour June 18

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Gear up for the summer with a

Tanach Tour at The Met!



Sunday afternoon, June 18

Group A:


Group B:


In Short…

Join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as we go through the final chapters of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, during the First Temple period, until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

See fascinating artifacts that bring these civilizations to life, learn about the dilemmas we faced during these times, and understand their historic context.

  • Tour is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • Materials are provided, but bringing your Tanach is recommended
  • Tour is limited to 25-30 participants at a time


For your convenience, you may check the FAQ section, which includes information about arrival, parking, kosher food, as well as a link to the source sheet which I hand out at the Met.

Book your reservation now!

Call or text: 929-233-0950                     E-mail:

Tanach Met collage 2


Nachliel put together an interactive and informative program in the MET. It was a great experience to see firsthand some of the artifacts that our biblical ancestors saw, as presented to us in the Tanach. It was especially moving to stand under the Ishtar Gate, the same gate our ancestors entered through as they were exiled from Jerusalem to Babel during first temple period, circa 586 BC.

Jesse Salem, Brooklyn, NY 
Founder of Tanach Study

Rav Nachliel led my ninth grade Jewish History students on an eye – opening tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Assyrian, Egyptian, and Babylonian wings. It was important to me that my students gain the requisite background knowledge to more deeply understand the Second Temple Period…Rav Nachliel was professional and thorough and provided an enriching and worthwhile learning experience. I highly recommend a museum tour guided by Rav Nachliel.

Mrs. Frieda Cattan
Jewish History Teacher

Magen David Yeshivah Celia Esses High School, Brooklyn, NY 


Nachliel’s knowledge, energy and understanding of the art was thorough, colorful and rich. Through an intimate knowledge of history as well, he was able to vibrantly relate manifestations of ancient history to modern cultural events. A history lesson through art would have been satisfying enough, but Nachliel’s added touch of historical events as they relate to modern culture, and his willingness to respond to many questions, often tangential, brought the tour to unexpected heights

Ezra and Deborah Safdieh 

Brooklyn, NY


I went with Nachliel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on several occasions. Nachliel is enthusiastic about Torah and archaeology, explaining Tanach and teachings of Chazal in a very engaging manner, passionately bringing Torah to life through the history and the archaeology that we explored together.Indeed, I too look forward to join him on future programs…

Dr. Nisan Hershkowitz, A president of the New York State Academy of General Dentistry, Brooklyn, NY

I really liked going to the MET with Nachliel. We saw lots of amazing things together. We should go again soon!

 Talia, age 4

What are you doing in a place like this?

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2016-07-19 08.59.51
Ancient Lachish on the 4th expedition, July 2016

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Israel”

“Yeah, but before that”

“Like I said, I’m from Israel”

I was Born in Jerusalem, and raised in the Old City. A true “Rovah boy” (Rovah = jargon for the Jewish Quarter). There are many children with English speaking parents who grew up in the Rovah, so it is quite understandable that people suspect I’m not native Israeli. It also helped that I had a classmate in seventh-grade, from Chicago, who inspired me to work on my English. You’ll catch me in my spelling and gaps in cultural knowledge. Little did I know that would set me on a path that would lead me to the United States, almost fifteen years later.
So now, the conversation usually carries on as follows:

“Where do you live?”

“I live in Highland Park, NJ”

“Wait, you’re from the Rovah? What are you doing in a place like this?” 

Good question. A question I have to ask myself daily. On the days  I don’t, I wonder if I’ve been here too long. But you can’t take Jerusalem out of a Rovah boy. What am I doing in a place like this? In this article, I’d like to share with you some practical thoughts about that.

Here’s another point, which I’ll soon connect to the previous one. After three years of teaching in New York and New Jersey (with the annual visit home), I came to Israel for a month (July-August 2016) – probably the most intensive month I’ve spent in Israel in my whole life. But why should you care? Allow me to explain.

While in the US, I’ve taught in several different settings: From classes and activities in schools and summer camps to presentations and learning groups with communities and college students. At the heart of what I share there is always the deep love for where I grew up: The Rovah, Jerusalem the Land of Israel and even beyond (well, Jordan). Much of my instruction was based on the thrust of having come from Israel, but it was circumstance that lead me to relate those things. I’m an educator, and I teach mostly Tanach and Judaic Studies, so naturally I talk about what I know from home.

Middle School students at the Ancient Near East department in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, learning about Assyria.


That thought dawned on me as I contemplated a museum tour I guided in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Let me backtrack. Around November 2015, I prepared a tour for my Middle School, focusing on Assyria and Babylon. My own preparation was laborious, and the students also had to prepare via texts, videos and other media. Since the Tenth of Tevet was coming up (marking the day that Nebuchadnezzar lay siege on Jerusalem), I felt the need to give the students a basic understanding of who is Babylon. They are not merely a nameless villain on the pages of history. Babylon was a culture that changed the world, making a powerful impact on us that lasts until today, from the Babylonian Talmud to the names of the month, and of course – the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE).

The students were also learning the book of Melachim (Kings), and it felt appropriate to include Assyria as well: Who were the Assyrians, what was their impact on us? Where are the Ten Tribes? And what happened to the Assyrians? Many of us have visited King Chizkiyahu’s (Ezekiah) water cistern, and even seen the defense wall he built – right under my parents’ house (see image below) – against Sennacherib. So who was he, and what was the big deal?

At first, the museum tour was meant to be an out-of-school experience and activity, nothing more. But then I realized how much of an impact it had on the students, and how this can me something much more. That is when I decided to go to Israel, and this time, to consciously invest in learning about the broader context in which Tanach took place.

Ancient Lachish. The second most important city in the Kingdom of Judah, after Jerusalem.

On my short visit, I participated in two archaeological expeditions (Tel Lachish, and Tel es-Safi or Ancient Gat), field-trip conventions for educators, I visit other important sites (City of David, Givati parking lot) and museum exhibits (‘Pharaoh in Canaan’, among others in the Israel Museum and Bible Lands Museum), and met with various experts and educators. On two of the sites, I interviewed archaeologists about how the relevance of what they do to our learning and understanding. So yes, this has a lot to do with us.


In the upcoming articles, I will hopefully share with you some of the experiences from those places, as well as the transcription and video of the interviews.

Professor Yossi Garfinkel, gaving coffee before an interview about Tel Lachish, at the YMCA, Jerusalem. All other interviews were on site.

Meanwhile, I am taking all of this, and am going back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But this time, I am going with a purpose. It is to make the most I can of “a place like this” – a place where we I can find things that will connect us to the text, enhance our understanding of the stories we’ve learned, and hopefully amplify our connection to the Land of Israel, and our Jewish Identity. I am developing a series of tours aimed at enhancing our understanding of things like the Seven Nations, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. As an artist, I can’t ignore the “Museum of Art” part of “The Metropolitan”, and in the programs I’m developing I intend to make available an art program, as I did with my own Middle School.

In the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, with Rabbi Yehuda Landy

Meanwhile, I wish you all a great summer, and I hope to see you one day in the Museum, and even better – in Jerusalem!

Welcome everyone!

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I hope to share with you many great ideas for engaging lessons and activities across the Jewish Studies curriculum.  Taking from ideas and lessons I have developed over a few years both in schools, summer camp lessons and other opportunities, I wish to share as much as possible with you so that you can use these to enrich your own instruction. 

This webpage is the counterpart of my youtube channel “Torah interMedia”. Both of these venues will hopefully have quality content within a few weeks.

While the youtube channel is primarily for the videos and basic links, this website is intended to provide in-depth instruction to implementing the lessons, as well as sources, materials, ideas, and a place to share feedback for fellow educators.

Looking forward to putting this all together so I can share it with you, and we can explore some awesome ideas together.


Nachliel haCohen Selavan