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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Weeks 14 & 15: Welcoming the Queen at Tzfat

Our time at Tzfat was a huge contrast from our time in Jerusalem. Instead of jumping into an on-going project or projects, we did our own, beginning with the planning stage and ending with a finished product that will be used to educate local building and conservation professionals. But first, we spent Shabbat in Tzfat, the center of Jewish spirituality and Kabbalah.

The week in Tzfat began on a Friday afternoon, just before everything closed for the weekend and the Sabbath rolled in. We stayed at Livnot U’lehibanot (“To Build and To Be Built”;, a non-profit Jewish organization that introduces young groups and volunteers to Jewish heritage, spirituality, and the Northern Galilee. Although most of our group is not Jewish at all, we were welcomed to all of the Shabbat events with open arms. There was lots of dancing, singing, learning about Judaism from a kabbalistic perspective, and, of course, food. The Talmud likens Shabbat to a bride, for whom the bridegroom (the Jewish people) waits with great anticipation. For this reason, Shabbat is sometimes referred to as a queen (, so we welcomed the “Shabbat Queen” by going out onto the balcony of the main Livnot building and watching the sunset, synagogue hopping, and a big dinner. 

Saturday began with a massive sleep in, followed by visits to some of Tzfat’s artists and lots of lounging around. It was nice to gear up for the week ahead and catch up on some much needed rest and relaxation.
I think this weekend was very interesting and enlightening for all involved, not just us from Saving the Stones. Because of the diversity of our group, we had a lot of engaging conversations with Livnot participants and leaders which brought a different perspective to the table (quite literally, since that is where we talked the most). It was great to get to know people outside of our little STS community and learn from people whom we may not have otherwise engaged. I know I personally gained a new understanding about some of the things we talked about. Even if I had opinions already, we talked about somethings that I haven't thought about in a while and it was nice to reconnect with myself as I learned about others.

Now back to work...

The building we worked on is a 16th century ruin that was declared a National Heritage Site by the Israeli government in October 2011. The site is called a “kahal” (קהל), the term used to designate Jewish neighborhoods in Spain before the Jews were kicked out in the 15-16th century. During this time, Tzfat reached its Golden Age, thanks to the Kabbalists who moved there from Spain. This particular building is very large and was home to either multiple families or one large, extended family. As part of the Saving the Stones project and final report of our activities there, we are researching the origin, use, and history of the building. Little is known about it except some general information and the archaeological and conservation projects that have taken place in recent decades. Stay tuned! I will share our findings when they are ready. :)
We chose to work on a large part of the Southern Wall and the oven/chimney, which involved scaffolding, power tools, designing our own mortar, planning our own project - everything. The problems we encountered included the use of cement by previous conservators and fire damage. The stones in my corner of the project were particularly fragile due to intense fire damage, as was the chimney and oven where two of my friends were stationed. The ultimate goal of the project was to make the first, tangible steps in establishing this kahal as a practical training ground for building and conservation professionals in the region. 
By the end of the week, we not only saved a lot of stones, but provided tangible examples of what different mortar recipes look like, how to do pointing and joint filling, prepared a wall for grouting, and removed quite a bit of damaging cement. Now, our whole group is working on a final report of our activities that will act as a training manual for those who work at Tzfat. I will be sure to share a link to the document when it is prepared!

We ended the week with a tour of Tzfat from the IAA archaeologist who spent his career there, but is a tour guide now that he has retired. We all came away wanting to return. Tzfat is a beautiful, restful place with a thriving art community and rich history. What more could one ask for?

We spent the week after Tzfat (week 15 already!) working on reports and beginning our final projects. We all have made a vast amount of progress, but there is not much to report as of now. I will keep blogging as I make progress on my project about the Vault Complex at Caesarea! Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Week 13: Our last week in Jerusalem!

Time is flying by so quickly now! I cannot believe I am finally sitting down to write this entry and over a week has passed already. Our time in Tsefat has also come and gone, but I will write more about that later. We are now preparing our final reports of the work we did in Jerusalem and Tsefat and will finish the documentation in the coming week. First, let’s talk about Jerusalem!

Our last week in Jerusalem was spent mostly at the Kotel Tunnels ( where we witnessed one of the largest grouting operations – up to 1,000 liters of mortar can be pumped into one vault in a single day and the complex of vaults is huge! The tunnels date to the Roman Period and run along the Western Wall of the temple complex in the Old City. Their excavation and conservation is a fascinating and difficult project, especially since the entire complex of vaults sits under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. This makes the project more difficult in terms of architecture and engineering, but also in terms of politics and religion.

In some places, the top of the Roman vaults is only 30cm below someone’s floor, so the IAA occasionally receives a phone call about mortar coming through the floor of a family’s home or business. Aliza, whom we worked with at the Tomb of David in Jerusalem (week 12), told us another story from her time at the tunnels: they began drilling 1m into the wall and the drill suddenly pulled forward after 20cm. They pulled out the drill to see what happened and saw light and feet on the other side! There was an undocumented room full of people who illegally moved to Israel and were living just on the other side of this worksite. Oops!

Now, grouting is the process by which mortar is injected into the core of a wall or vault in order to stabilize it from the inside. In most periods of history, builders filled walls with soil, which later washed out, settled, or just plain disappeared. Many archaeological and historical buildings have large hollow spaces inside the walls that need to be filled in order to be safe. In our case, in the Kotel Tunnels, this is done with an air compressor and batches upon batches of mortar. The rooms and tunnels that are being conserved now will someday be open to the public and incorporated into the tourists’ tour of the site.

The two best parts of the week were 1) wearing a HasMat suit, of course, and 2) Jonny’s (the IAA conservation engineer of the project) tour of the Kotel Tunnels. As the engineer, he was able to take us to areas that are not yet open to the public – including a potter’s workshop and a very large cistern with much of the original plaster still intact.

Overall, the Jerusalem experience was amazing, but hectic. We did a lot of different types of work, learned a lot at every site we worked at, and got really, really messy (my favorite!).

We also made a lot of friends during our stay at Jerusalem Hostel (, just across the street from Zion Square, where there are all sorts of restaurants and shops. After the laid-back atmosphere of New Akko, the hustle and bustle of a major city was a nice change. Still, we all needed a few days (or a week in my case) to recover from the …uhhh…adventure of living in a hostel for 3 weeks.

Then, we were off to Tsefat (Safed) for a completely different experience altogether! There is a good reason why I cannot fit both weeks into the same blog entry, so I will catch up soon. For now, I will enjoy the beautiful weather from the rooftop of our BRAND NEW apartment in Old Akko! (Yes, we now live in the Old City by the sea!!!)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Weeks 11 & 12: Jerusalem!

Finally - a chance to sit down and catch everyone up on what we have been doing! Two of our three weeks in Jerusalem have passed and we are moving to Tsefat on Thursday. Our schedule for the past two weeks has been packed with work, tours, events, and personal enjoyment of the Jerusalem scene.

Here is the run-down of everything we have been doing – it is quite an impressive list!

Week 1:
1)      Tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Lab at the Israel Musuem
2)      Work at the IAA glass, ceramic, and metal conservation labs at Har Hotsvim (Tues)
3)      Tour of the Kotel Tunnels
4)      Tour of the Old City and Jerusalem Archaeological Park with Ya’akov Billig
5)      Excavation at the City of David – Givati Area (Wed-Thurs)

Week 2:
1)      Work in the IAA mosaic conservation labs at the Rockefeller Museum (Sun-Mon)
2)      Tour of the Rockefeller Museum with the head curator
3)      Tour of the Rockefeller archives
4)      Meeting with Shuka Dorfmann, Chief Director of the IAA
5)      Field work at the Tomb of David (Tues-Thurs)
6)      Tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (with Shachar Puni, head conservation architect of Old City Jerusalem for the IAA)
7)      Tour of the Old City walls (with Avi Mashiach, conservation architect with the IAA)

Since there is so much to talk about, I will only talk about a few of my own personal highlights. As a person who is working on her 3rd degree in Bible and has a strong interest in archaeology, I’ve had a blast these past two weeks.

Our Jerusalem adventure kicked off with a tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls conservation lab, where we saw the oldest extant copy of the 10 Commandments, Psalm 48, some phylacteries, part of the Genesis Apocryphon, and miscellaneous fragments that have yet to be conserved. We also saw the camera and lab where the digitization of the scrolls is taking place. When Google partnered with the Israel Museum in 2010 to digitize the Dead Sea Scrolls and make them available to the public, the two purchased one of the few MegaVision cameras in existence ( Some of the scrolls, such as the Great Isaiah Scroll and the Community Rule, are available online already (

I also thoroughly enjoyed our tours with Ya’akov Billing and Shachar Puni. The two tours were complimentary, but neither one of them knew it in the beginning. During the former tour, Ya’akov took us around the Old City, explained the original layout, and how the city has changed over time. This included a trip to the Wohl Museum, where the foundations of upper-class homes dating to the Roman period have been exposed and conserved. The highlight of this tour was the time we spent at the southern wall of the temple complex. From the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, one can see the base of the Herodian temple mount, the pavement that was briefly used in 2nd Temple times, and the stones that were pushed off the top of the complex when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 C.E.

The tour with Shachar took what we learned from Ya’akov about the original plan of the Old City and focused on the original plan of the Holy Sepulchre complex. What is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre used to be much larger. When it was originally built for Helen and her famous son Constantine in the Byzantine Period (2-6th ct. CE), the church included the area where the church now stands, a basilica, and an atrium. Today, the only way to see what is left of the original elements is to enter the Russian Church a few doors east and mentally connect the dots. I cannot describe it well here, but it was fascinating to watch Shachar read the architectural cues that reveal the structure of the original complex. I even went back today to see what else I could see, now that I know more about the original floor-plan and am learning to see the different periods of building construction here in Israel. Before Saving the Stones, there is no way I would be able to do that, so I was pleasantly surprised. J

Of course we also enjoyed all of the practical things we learned over the past two weeks (and will learn next week). We worked with glass, ceramics, metals, mosaics, pointing, grouting, and came up with our own mortar recipes. We even excavated so that we understand where the items we conserve come from – tons and tons of dirt. A few of us have archaeological backgrounds, myself included, while it was a new experience for others. It was fun to get to know other young people in the area and chat with folks outside of our group. By now, we are all pros at introducing ourselves and talking about the program. Sometimes it feels like reciting a monologue or a scientific equation (my name is X + I am from Y + my background is in Z + I am here because of A…) but that is the nature of the beast. The great news is that we introduce ourselves so often because we are meeting so many important and interesting people, like the Chief Director of the IAA, Shuka Dorfmann, whom we met this week.

Well, it is time to gear up for the upcoming week – 2 days at the Kotel Tunnels, 2 days at Area G of the City of David, then off to Tsefat on Thursday! Don’t forget to check out more photos of our adventures on facebook:


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Weeks 9 & 10: Literally “Saving the Stones”!!! ...and writing up reports.

After a much needed break during the week of Pesach (Passover), we jumped right into a week long intensive course on stone conservation with Jacques Nageur, Head of Art Conservation for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and his team. Our week with Jacques was highly anticipated, as it had been built up by the Saving the Stones staff, and it definitely did not disappoint. Plus, the course was open to other conservators so we got to meet some new people, including people who work the grounds at the Ba'hai Gardens in Haifa and students from the conservation program at Western Galilee College here in Akko.

Before jumping into practical work on the city walls and the roof of Akko Prison, Jacques made sure we knew what we were doing and why. The first 2.5 days were spent in the classroom discussing mineralogy, how to assess risks to the stone, deterioration patterns, cleaning and treatment processes, practical considerations, and many case studies.

On the third day, we split our time between the classroom and two trouble-shooting workshops. We visited both the tombs of Al-Jazaar Mosque and the archway to a local courtyard in order to examine their states of preservation and assess the risks to these structures. Of course the typical causes of deterioration were evident: climate, water, and human intervention. We also tried our hand at cleaning a section of graffiti across the street from the ICC, which we returned to later in the week.

On day four, we went to jail. The roof of Akko Prison (which we visited on week 6) is part of a museum which is now owned and operated by the Israel Ministry of Defense. The Museum of Underground Prisoners in Akko tells the story of Jewish rebel inmates who defied the British through a grand escape in 1948. While the prison was in operation, convicts spent part of their time on the roof where there is nothing to do except take in the panoramic view of Akko and the coastline. Oh yeah - and scratch your name into the floor and walls.

These inscriptions are part of the museum's maintenance plan and an attraction for tourists. The wind was particularly strong that day, so we couldn't use many of the chemicals we planned, but we were able to remove weeds (which formally fall into category “bio attack”) from a section of the roof using herbicides and a pressure washer.

On our final day with Jacques and his team, we learned about sandblasting, aluminum blasting, and plastic blasting. We applied these cleaning techniques to the graffiti we worked on early in the week – only to find it repainted the next morning! Jacques told us that graffiti removal is a booming business and now we see why. Well, at least we don't have to worry about running out of work here in Akko!

Week 10 opened with a lecture titled The Construction of Built Heritage in Israel: Status and Assessment from Raz Efron, Head of Planning in the IAA's conservation department. Raz gave us an extremely helpful overview of the global, national, and local organizations that are responsible for conservation in Israel. His main point was that, by and large, conservation happens because the local people want it. It is up to local bodies to organize, plan, fund, and execute the work. Raz's lecture didn't go in this direction, but it connects to what I talked about at length before – tangible and intangible heritage. I won't repeat myself here (because you can read all about it in my entry on week 4 :) ), but the conservation of a live city must be a joint effort between the locals, conservators, and authorities. Afterall, all of our work has people in mind.

We spent the rest of the week formally documenting the work we did at Hatzeva (week 7) and in our time with Jacques and his team (week 9). Next week, off to Jerusalem!