Pines School of Graduate Studies Students Spend the Summer Learning and Digging in Israel - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Pines School of Graduate Studies Students Spend the Summer Learning and Digging in Israel

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Seven Pines School of Graduate Studies students spent six weeks in Israel this past summer, studying and touring with our faculty in Jerusalem and working for a month at our archaeological dig at Tel Dan. 

The trip is offered every other summer; this year’s group was the largest since the program began in 2000.  The students spent two weeks at our Jerusalem campus, led by Dr. Kristine Garroway ’09 of our Los Angeles faculty and Prof. David Ilan, director of our Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and director of the Tel Dan excavations. From Prof. Ilan, they learned about the geography of Israel and Jerusalem, and the archaeology program at our Jerusalem campus. 

Their touring included field trips to the Old City, the City of David and Hezekiah’s tunnel, Masada, Qumran, Bethlehem, Herodion, Solomon’s Pools and, in the Tel Aviv area where they were joined by Prof. Yifat Theriani of Tel Aviv University, Tel Sheva, Tel Arad, Maresha, Lachish, Tel Qasile, and Tel Kudadi.  Students routinely praised Prof. Ilan’s “expertise and storytelling capacity on-site” and “his ability to get us an inside look at the sites.”  These qualities “make any tour with him an experience,” in the words of trip participants, Caleb Gilmore and Michael Owen.

Prof. David Mendelsson, director of our Year-In-Israel Program, taught the group about modern Israel and led a trip to Mt. Herzl and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Students also visited the Israel Museum and Shrine of the Book, and the Rockefeller Museum—the latter two housing the Dead Sea Scrolls—and the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

A particularly powerful highlight for students was a visit to a Palestinian village in the West Bank, “where we sat down with a group of women from the village and listened to their stories of the struggle of trying to raise a family in the shadow of Israeli-controlled, tourist-attracting land [i.e., an archaeological site].  That was easily the most poignant experience as we thought through how archaeology affects and is impacted by the politics of the modern world,” reports Michael Owen.  Ryan Replogle adds, “It really gave us a more holistic perspective on archaeology that no book ever could have.”

The group then spent four weeks working at the College’s archaeological dig at Tel Dan, the entire active season at the site—a fact that was appreciated by our students. Ryan Replogle noted, “I am extremely thankful to have gotten the chance to experience a full season of archaeology. . .By being there for the full four weeks, we were able to really see what all goes into executing field archaeology—the setting up, logging data, different kinds of analysis, problem-solving on the fly, packing up, physical and mental toll, etc.” 

Phillip Fischaber shares, “Archaeology at Tel Dan was absolutely amazing. Getting into the dirt and finding stuff was an experience that cannot be matched in the classroom. Learning archaeology and pottery reading from David Ilan will have an ongoing impact both on my studies and on my future teaching.” Sara Yeager adds, “I got much more out of the dig at Tel Dan than I had expected. . .  From making sure we had enough buckets every day to marking pottery until midnight to assisting our section leaders with paperwork, some of us became hugely involved in the dig.  I learned so much about methodology that, by the end of the dig, I was being a mother hen for rocks in the ground so that other people in my square couldn’t rip them out of the ground before we figured out what was under them.  Although the schedule was rough, it was worth it.” Michael Owen remarks, “I was enormously privileged (lucky) on the dig site. I was able to work with advisors in different capacities and attempt different styles of archaeology, which was, of course, a big part of the main goal of the trip.  For me, there was never even a long stretch of time without something exciting happening.”

Julia Olson notes appreciatively that “every single second of our month at the dig site was a learning opportunity.  The supervisors there did not miss a chance to use each aspect of the dig as a teaching experience which could then be immediately applied to the practical work we did each day. Julia was ‘lucky enough to serve as a site assistant during the last week of the dig, which afforded me even more opportunities to learn the finer points of running a site at a dig, working through the administrative aspect (concerning paperwork and logging and registering pottery) as well as a closer look at the role of my supervisor who was managing a team of volunteers.  The entire experience was invaluable to me.”

Also working on the dig were graduate students and some faculty from the Sorbonne and UCLA.  Sara Yeager notes, “We enjoyed the company of participants from every other school, including the dig directors, and benefitted greatly from the leadership of David and Yifat.”

Summing up the trip, Michael Owen remarks, “If all I had to go on was my own experience of the dig itself, then I would say that HUC-JIR should give every student this experience more than once.”


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu