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Underground Jerusalem

Leah Abramowitz

I’ve always been intrigued by the ugly tin walls at the back of the Kosel Plaza. I’ve peeked between the slits, but the large, chalk-colored pit only whetted my appetite for an explanation. The earth was dry, but the history must be rich and real.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When I saw an ad for a tour of the site — with one of the chief archaeologists who had been in charge of the dig — I jumped at the opportunity, even though it took place on a Friday morning, when all good, heimishe housewives should be otherwise engaged. With her floppy hat and baggy clothing, Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah certainly looks the part of dedicated archaeologist; yet she is much younger and more personable than I’d expected. We are about 30 people on her tour, many of whom are quite knowledgeable about underground Jerusalem. When the tin gates open wide, we are suddenly witness to a plethora of finds — a wide, flat-stoned road, pillars and sections of pillars, deep water holes, well-preserved aqueducts, steps cut into the rock outcroppings at the back, a mikveh, and what turns out to be the bottom floor of a building from the First Temple period. Instead of enlightening us as to what we are seeing right away, Shlomit gives us some background, and then raises questions. The reason the excavation had begun now, she explains, is because a large visitors center is planned for this site by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. As required by law, the Israel Antiquities Authority was called in to organize a “rescue dig” to discover if any archaeological finds of significance were below. Shlomit has worked for the Antiquities Authority since l990, but this site was particularly attractive to her. As children, she and her brother were photographed by their father on this precise location back in l967, after the Six Day War, when for the first time in l9 years Jews returned to the Old City and the Kosel. Moreover, although archaeologists have been exploring the region for almost 200 years, this site — across from theHarHabayis — had never been uncovered. Shlomit is presently doing postdoctoral work in archaeology at Tel Aviv University. Her rigorous professional qualifications combined with her love for the land of Israel make her the perfect guide as we plumb the mysteries underground.

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