During our recent trip to Israel, we visited Caesarea, a modern city built amid the ruins of an ancient town from Roman times. We strolled on the beach by the aqueduct that once ran for miles from Mount Carmel, admired the ancient bird mosaics, and marveled at the amphitheater.
We watched a movie about the history of Caesarea, with its many layers of civilization. It was destroyed by earthquakes and wars, only to come back again and again. After we saw the movie, my son remarked that the Crusader period usually seems like a short and unimportant part of the land's history, and yet it lasted two centuries, almost as long as the United States.
Being in Israel gives me a deep sense of history. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, I don't just feel connected to our Jewish history; I feel accountable to that history, much as walking near Independence Hall and the historic district of Philadelphia makes me feel responsible toward American history and the sacrifices made to establish and defend our democracy. While Caesarea reminded me of our human transience, Jerusalem represents our human endurance, putting me in touch with generations past and generations to come. I feel that my words today are part of a conversation that began four millennia ago and is recorded in the Bible, the Talmud, the musings of philosophers and the poetry of pioneers.
Archaeological sites pop up everywhere; I even saw one in a traffic circle in my husband's hometown of Ashdod. When we lived in Israel, a mosiac from an ancient synagogue was discovered outside our apartment and became an instant tourist attraction. And once I recall being in Jerusalem and looking at an excavation cut into the stone that showed the strata of centuries below our feet. Shortly thereafter, I was praying at the Western Wall when a book of the Psalms next to me blew open in the wind to reveal the words of Psalm 90:4, "For in your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch in the night."