Photo Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
Boyer High School students unearthing a mikvah.

Some 240 eleventh-grade students from Jerusalem’s Boyer High School have discovered an original and rewarding way to reduce their travel costs for their class trip to Poland: working for an entire week on archaeological excavations at Ramat Bet Shemesh, far from their computers and air-conditioned classroom.

The students are involved in unearthing exciting archaeological finds at the site. In recent months, the remains of a Jewish settlement dating to the Second Temple period have been found there, including an extensive complex of ritual baths and underground hiding refuges.

Boyer High School students exploring the array of mikvahs and cisterns. / Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
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The excavations, carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority with cadets from pre-army course, are funded by the Ministry of Construction and Housing prior to the building of a new residential neighborhood in Ramat Bet Shemesh.

The settlement, whose ancient name is unknown, has so far yielded eight ritual baths, cisterns, and hiding refuges, along with rock-hewn industrial installations. The houses themselves have not survived and their stones were taken to construct buildings in later periods.

One of the caves also yielded intact ceramic jars and cooking pots. / Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Sarah Hirshberg, Shua Kisilevitz and Sarah Levevi-Eilat, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “The settlement’s extraordinary significance lies in its imposing array of private ritual baths, which were incorporated in the residential buildings. Each household had its own ritual bath and a cistern. Some of the baths uncovered are simple and others are more complex and include an otzar, or collecting basin, into which the rainwater would drain. It is interesting to note that the local inhabitants adhered strictly to the rules regarding purity and impurity.”

Underneath the dwellings and rock-hewn installations, another surprising discovery was unearthed, dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (second century CE) – a winding labyrinth of hiding refuges connected to sophisticated and elaborate complexes. In some of the underground complexes, the rebels breached a cistern to provide those in hiding with access to water. One of the caves also yielded intact ceramic jars and cooking pots that were probably used by the rebels. The finds show that the settlement continued to exist even after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Boyer High School students digging the Ramat Bet Shemesh site. / Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Dudi Shokef, director of the Poland delegations program for the Ministry of Education, “The aim of this initiative is to impart the heritage of the past to Israeli students by integrating them into a valuable educational project, such as excavating an archaeological site.”

According to Dafna Menashe Baruch, Principal of Boyer High School, “This unique project, which connects the country’s past and Israel’s heritage with Holocaust studies and the journey to Poland, provides students with an educational experience in which they are exploring and investigating. By stepping outside the classroom and working in the field on an archaeological dig, students are exposed to many different worlds of knowledge; in addition to working with their hands, they get to know about a fascinating field of research. This is a great privilege and an unforgettable experience and we are full of appreciation and thanks to the staff of the IAA and to its director for initiating this valuable educational program that connects the past with the present.”

A tree growing out of a cistern. / Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Shelly Kozlovich, a student at Boyer High School, “It’s fantastic that we, Israeli students in the twenty-first century, are getting the opportunity to find out about the country and are unearthing a Jewish settlement from 2000 years ago with our own hands. With the money we’re making, we’ll pay for our trip to Poland and learn there about the Holocaust – an event that had a huge influence on Israel’s establishment. It’s a great way of closing a circle.”

According to Dr. Amit Shadman, the IAA district archaeologist for Judah, “In consultation with the Ministry of Construction and Housing, we have decided that the excavations will be followed by the site’s preservation and development as an archaeological site in the heart of the new neighborhood.”

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