Week One

The view to the North

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been in Israel for a week. It’s also hard to believe that I’ve only been here for a week. A lot has happened since I arrived. I’ve settled into my apartment, learned my way around the campus, and explored the city of Ariel a little bit.

This place is beautiful. Ariel is on a ridge in the central hill country of Israel. The university is located on the highest point of the ridge. What that means is that there is an amazing view in almost every direction. I’ve been told that on a clear day, you can see the Mediterranean Sea from here.

Sunday

Ariel University

Here in Israel, weekends are on Friday and Saturday, so Sunday is the equivalent of Monday in the US. The campus bustled with activity. I found the administration office and spent some time filling out paperwork and getting things set up. My old Israeli phone number was not active anymore, so I had to get a new SIM card with a new phone number. I also opened a bank account and got a bus pass. I took a tour of campus and met a few students in the archaeology program. By 4:00 pm, jet lag caught up with me, and I called it a night.

Monday

Jerusalem

Having gone to bed ridiculously early on Sunday, I woke up around 1:00 am, ready to start the day. I decided that this would be a good day to learn the bus system. I waited for it to get light outside, then I set out for Jerusalem. When I had gotten my bus pass the day before, I also had downloaded an app called Moovit to my phone. It turned out to be wonderfully helpful. It directed me to walk to a certain bus stop and wait for a particular bus. Once I was on the bus, it told me where to get off and which connecting bus to wait for. It directed me each step of the way until I arrived.

I explored a dig site below Mount Zion.

Having successfully arrived in Jerusalem, I went into the old city. It was nice to walk the streets of Jerusalem again. They were not the same as before COVID, though. Only about one third of the shops were open. I thought that it was because I arrived early in the morning, but as the day went on, many shops never opened. I didn’t see any tourists, and not very many locals were out and about. It was nice to be able to walk freely through the streets, but I kind of missed the usual hustle and bustle.

I walked a lot of old routes through the city. They brought back good memories. I walked past the Mount Zion dig site, where I worked in 2014, but nobody was there (I didn’t expect them to be). I also walked around below Mount Zion, because I heard that someone had excavated an ancient gate there. I found the excavation site, but I didn’t see the gate. I did see an ancient tower and a stone quarry, though.

I visited Zak’s Antiquities. Zak is a good friend to many of the people in our dig team. I always like to look at the antiquities in his shop. Usually, when we excavate, we dig up broken pieces of ancient things. It is nice to see complete unbroken examples. Zak was very hospitable. He bought me breakfast and invited me to use his shop as my headquarters whenever I come to Jerusalem.

The Hinnom Valley

There is a tomb in the Hinnom Valley that I want to explore. I didn’t go to it on this trip because I don’t think it’s safe for me to go to the Hinnom Valley alone. I scoped it out from the other site of the valley and figured out what trail to take when I go there with friends.

I stopped at Saint Anne’s Church. It is one of my favorite places in Jerusalem. The ancient Pool of Bethesda is there as well as a flower garden and a church with amazing acoustics. I love to go there and sing hymns. When I arrived, they informed me that they were closing in five minutes. They let me in for free, and I had time for a couple of songs.

I walked by the Ritz Hotel, where our dig team usually stays. It looked sad and abandoned. The windows were dusty. While I was in the neighborhood, I tried to go to the tomb of Queen Helena. For the past several years, we have been trying to get in, but they are always closed. As usual, they were closed, but a man opened the gate and told me to come back another day. I felt like that was a step in the right direction. I will try again next time I’m in Jerusalem.

After getting a schwarma for lunch from Istanbul, which is my favorite schwarma place, I asked the Moovit app to direct me to Ariel University, and I successfully rode the bus system back.

Tuesday

Pottery Class

On Tuesday, I visited a class on late period pottery. This particular class covered Early Roman oil lamps. The class was in Hebrew, but the slideshow had lots of pictures, and the second half of the class involved examining actual pottery pieces. I really enjoyed the class and I learned new things despite the language barrier. It was also nice to meet one of the archaeology professors and some more archaeology students.

Wednesday

Mount Ebal

The altar on Mount Ebal

On Wednesday, I went to Mount Ebal. I am particularly interested in Mount Ebal because I wrote my Master’s thesis on the altar there.

Aaron Lipkin, a friend of our dig team, was going there to meet with a couple of people, so he picked me up and took me along. We stopped at Shave Shomron, a Jewish community located in that area. Aaron showed me the library there as well as a room dedicated to Adam Zertal, who excavated at Mount Ebal in the 1980s.

Then we proceeded to the alar site, and I explored to my heart’s content while Aaron met with some people and flew a drone to take pictures. I hope that someday we can do some further excavations at Mount Ebal, but for now the political situation is a little tricky at the site.

Thursday

Ariel University

Thursday was a busy day. I met with the administration again to complete some paperwork that I hadn’t been able to do before. I also visited two more archaeology classes and met more archaeology professors and students. The classes were both about aspects of the Iron Age. Since they were in Hebrew, I didn’t understand a lot, but I enjoyed them nevertheless.

After class, I met with my academic advisor, David Ben-Shlomo. We had lunch and discussed my PhD program. The meeting was very helpful for me. We outlined a plan of action and discussed various topics that I need to address in my dissertation.

My first priority is to write a research proposal. I need to finish it within a year. Once it is finished, a panel of scholars made up of some professors at Ariel University and some outsiders will review it. They will ask me questions, and (hopefully!) approve it. After that, I can begin work on my dissertation. At some point, I need to take a few classes, but for now the priority is the research proposal.

Friday

Research

On Friday I didn’t have any commitments or plans. I decided to work on my research proposal while my discussion with David was fresh on my mind. I went to the library and found the archaeology section. I outlined my research proposal and dove into the material on the topic. It was a productive day, and I feel good about the direction my research is headed.

Saturday

Shabbat

Today is Saturday, the Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath). The campus is quiet and seems almost deserted. Eventually, I’d like to find a church to attend on the weekend. I’ve also been invited to go to Shabbat services at the synagogue sometime. For today, though, I’m having a low-key day. I’m sitting outdoors looking out over the hills to the north toward Shechem and Mount Ebal. There’s a gentle breeze and warm sunshine. I am glad that I am here. I am enjoying the moment, and I am excited to work on my PhD here at Ariel University.

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