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