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May 14th, 2006
Delving into Israel's history
Digs give children a view of rich past


By Kristen Green, Globe Correspondent

Children at Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley recently put down their books and picked up trowels, to participate in a simulated archeological dig.

The children sifted through soil and pieced together replicas of ancient artifacts during the dig. An Israeli archeologist, Aaron Greener, one of the dig's creators, voiced hope that the experience would strengthen the students' connection to Israel.

The dig, modeled on excavations in Israel, emphasized to the students one of the school's core values -- the unity of the Jewish people, said Nina Price, the Sudbury temple's director of congregational learning.

''It's a way of connecting with what they're learning in textbooks and learning in the classroom, and making it real," she said.

Greener and Mechael Osband, a Brookline native who is an archeologist in Israel, developed the concept several years ago for a summer program in Detroit. They installed a large mound of dirt that they had stocked with replicas of ancient pottery and coins.

The Detroit program's success, and the demand in the United States for ways to connect to the people and land of Israel, led the pair to form a company, with Cambridge offices, named Dig The Past, Greener said.

They developed a second, more portable program that they have used this year at Congregation Beth El and at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. They have also designed a sandbox-sized container of dirt that they can transport in a van. They bury small items shipped from Israel and odds and ends that they find here, such as bones, mosaic tiles, and bits of leather.

The program pairs the archeological dig with a workshop on the laboratory work that follows a dig, lessons on what daily life was like in Israel 2,000 years ago, and training in Hebrew writing. The youngest children, working with parents and other adults, restore replicas of ancient vessels that had been broken into pieces.

The program, Greener said, can create ''a great tangible connection to Israel." Students love the physical activity, and parents like the fact that it gets their children excited about visiting Israel, said Greener, who teaches at the school and who now lives in Cambridge.

Roanne Miller, director of the temple's early childhood program, said the program had exposed the children to their history.

''Israel is one big archeological dig, and every day they discover new things," she said.

More than 175 Congregation Beth El students participated in the dig, which had been planned to coincide with Israel Independence Day celebrations this month. Some students packed suitcases for a pretend trip to Israel.

Price said students appreciate being able to do something more than simply read about Israel's history.

''They feel it and they touch it," she said. ''Somehow what they're reading about in the Torah isn't so theoretical anymore."

Fran Nigberg, the temple's education coordinator, said she liked the way Greener has explained to preschoolers how, in ancient times, when houses were destroyed, other homes were built on top of them, leaving three or four different centuries of relics on the same land.

"It was incredible," she said. "I learned a lot."

 

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