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