Campers Get a Chance to Grab a Shovel and Really 'Dig
By Bryan Schwartzman
Jacob Fischer and Jordan Baum were both hunched over the
dirt, intensely examining the ground for hidden
artifacts. The excavation had already proved fruitful;
the pair of 11-year-olds had uncovered part of an oil
lamp, bones (not real ones, Jordan pointed out), shards
of pottery and tiles marked with ancient Hebrew script.
Other campers had managed to find charcoal from when the
Romans burned down the home of a Jewish family nearly
2,000 years ago.
Not bad for a morning at Ramah Day Camp in Elkins Park.
"This is awesome," Jacob and Jordan said almost
simultaneously, as they scooped a shovelful of dirt.
All 185 of the campers at the Mandell Education Campus
have had the chance to experience as close to an Israeli
archaeological dig as one is able to find in suburban
Philadelphia. With help from a grant from the Jewish
Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the camp was able to
host "Dig the Past," a fledgling Israeli program that
aims to introduce kids of all ages to the art and
science of archaeology.
Aaron Greener, the 29-year-old co-founder of "Dig the
Past" -- who recently earned his master's degree in
archaeology from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan,
Israel -- arrived early last week to begin the arduous
task of building Tel Ramah, which would be used
throughout the weeklong program. (Greener, a
Jerusalemite, actually got a dispensation from his
reserve unit to come to the United States. His unit is
not on the front lines, but serving near Ramallah in the
Greener divided the designated area for the tel into
quadrants -- much like a real dig -- and layered the
soil in a manner similar to what would actually be found
in the field; he also buried a number of objects of all
kinds for the kids to discover.
"I told them at the start that we're in Jerusalem now,"
said Greener. "And that you will find anything you
[might] expect to find from the Second Temple period."
The program actually got underway on Tisha B'Av, and the
kids were told to imagine that they were searching
through the ruins of Jerusalem after the destruction of
the Temple. The aim of the exercise was to expose the
campers, from the 4-year-olds up to the 12-year-olds, to
a cornerstone Israeli experience, according to Sue Ansul,
the camp's director.
In addition to plugging away with shovels and buckets,
the campers also got to try sifting through dirt,
washing and putting back together shattered pottery as
part of a lab experience, and learning how to write and
understand the older version of Hebrew script.
"Our job is not done. We have to put them back together
again," Greener said to a group of 4- to 6-year-olds who
sat waiting for some pottery and glue to use.
After struggling to rebuild a piece of pottery (which
the staff broke apart before burying the pieces in the
dirt), Yaron Bernstein, all of 4, approached Greener
looking somewhat distressed. He held up a shard of
pottery with a big gaping hole in it. But Greener told
him not to worry; it looks more like an authentic tel
find that way.
Later on, the 10- and 11-year-olds seemed no less
enthused at the prospect of going back in Tel Ramah and
searching for "artifacts."
"I just like digging and looking at all the cool stuff,"
said 10-year-old Jackie Rosensweig.
Greener announced that at the end of his stay, all the
kids would get "Junior Archaeologist Certificates,"
which, he added, would qualify them to work on a real
dig in the land of Israel.