Jeremiah, Jerusalem and me
While sitting in synagogue during recent Rosh Hashanah services, I was struck by a passage from the prophet Jeremiah, who fore-told a return to Jerusalem despite the tumul-tuous events of the city's destruction in 586 BCE by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Miraculously, Jeremiah's prophecy would come true within our lifetime.
Jerusalem has figured prominently in my own life. I was fortunate enough to have been involved in the excavations of the City of Da-vid, the most ancient part of Jerusalem, which were headed by my friend, the controversial Israeli archeologist Yigal Shiloh during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Shiloh was hand-picked to lead the City of David excavations by Yigael Yadin, the great Israeli archeologist. Yadin had a storied ca-reer. But his most famous exploits were as the head of the famous dig at the legendary site of Masada from 1963 to 1965, as well as his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were initially obtained for Israel by Yadin's father, Eliezer Sukenik, of Hebrew University.
Yadin had hoped to direct the excavations himself, but was prevented from doing so by age and other responsibilities. By the late 1970s, these included the job of deputy prime minister of Israel under Menachem Begin, as well as publishing the last major Dead Sea Scroll to be discovered, the Temple Scroll.
It was during this time that I first met Ya-din, while putting together a series of pro-grams for Ideas on CBC Radio dealing with major archeological discoveries, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was also then that I had started teaching an introductory course in archeology at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies, one of whose aims was to give students a chance to partici-pate in an actual excavation.
The place we were looking for had to be familiar as well as accessible. It also had to resonate with students on a higher level. Jeru-salem was the ideal site.
I naively decided to try to call Yadin while on vacation in Florida. It was a long shot, since Yadin was heavily involved in the Camp David Accords, which were underway at the time. But fortune smiled upon me, and I was able to get through to Yadin's secretary, a woman by the name of Mrs. Baillie, who was kind enough to get me an interview with Ya-din, who coincidentally would be in Canada a few weeks later. She also helped me get in touch with Shiloh, who accepted my group from Toronto on his excavations.
It was while on these excavations that I came upon the remains of Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem. Even after thou-sands of years, the destruction level was enormous. What moved me was the fact that after 2,600 years, our ancient enemies were gone, but Jerusalem was being reborn from its ashes. This vista miraculously encapsulated the awe-inspiring history of our people. It is a history that I am proud to be a part of.