MASA‐Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Students take a study day in a classroom of a different kind at CAESAREA
Photos & text: Lydia Aisenberg
The ancient port city of Caesarea recently became an open air classroom for the MASA‐Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester students almost four months into the five month program – the fifth group to participate in the innovative and successful project that can these days literally be awarded hard earned high‐fives!
Just a 20 minute drive from the Givat Haviva campus, Caesarea is one of the most popular sites to be visited by both tourists from abroad and Israelis. Not surprising when on offer is an enormous open to the skies wondrous site that as one enters the impressive high‐ceilinged arched gateway, legends instantly come back to life with visual evidence of human creative greatness – and the opposite ‐ as well as the awesome strength of the wrath of Mother Nature when unleashing earthquakes powerful enough to upend massive marble pillars weighing a few tons apiece and toss them one on top of the other along the seashore.
In some places the impression is of a giant’s successful strike at the local bowling alley – the pins knocked down to lay at different angles until of course picked up and reset for the next attempt. Here the massive pins‐ofthe‐ past pillars of the ruins of the city built by Herod the Great to serve as his main commercial center, are never likely to be moved from their resting places either embedded in the rocks or at the bottom of the Mediterranean sea together with a large portion of the destroyed Herodian and Roman harbor.
One of the greatest cities of the ancient world, as huge as the Caesarea site available to the general public is today, it is known to be only a portion of what lays on the floor of the Mediterranean in the area as well as beneath the sandy dunes of the region awaiting excavation.
On a breathtaking blast to the past, the Intensive Arabic Semester students wandered through painstakingly evacuated layers of rich history contained in the remains of the city walls, ramparts, ancient roads, massive hewn slabs of stone from long destroyed buildings and strolled around the old port area. One's imagination – helped along on the day by the most professionally graphic descriptions given by educator and Semester academic director Dr. David Mendelsohn – worked overtime taking in the glorious and gory past of Caesarea. The sound of horses hoof’s pounding the paved road, chariot wheels screeching to a halt and the hum and drum noises emanating from a busy port seem to penetrate the tranquility of Caesarea in present times.
“I can almost hear the fishermen discussing their catch or instructions being yelled to port workers,” said Mendelsohn, whose comment enhanced by the joyous cry from a nearby fisherman reeling in his rod and finding a fish that couldn’t resist the bait thrashing about on the end of the line.
The building of and destruction by the wrath of both man and nature, from the Phoenicians to the Crusaders and every people and their leaders who came, conquered and were conquered in between, makes Caesarea such a fascinating site, legends simply coming back to life and enhanced by the glorious azure Mediterranean waters and sandy beach.
Talented stone masons and artisans have left their mark for eternity, the detail on a sarcophagus or base of marble pillars and slabs crafted to decorate doorways, ceilings and inner walls, leaving present day visitors standing in awe of their work.
Apart from the Intensive Arabic Semester students visiting Caesarea that day there were hundreds of other visitors from a number of different countries, yet hardly heard as the effect of the sheer beauty of the site drives one to silence – andvworking overtime with the camera.
At 11.00 p.m. the silence was shattered by a siren. It was Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel.vSirens sounded throughout the country. The IAS students and staff stood still – as did other people at Caesarea and throughout the land as the ear‐splitting sirens blasted full pitch. In Caesarea an eeriness prevailed standing at such a time in a place where so much had been fought for and been destroyed in the long gone past especially as peace is yet to prevail in modern times in the same region.
Following the visit to Caesarea’s old port, the students and staff continued on to the Roman aqueduct a short distance away. Having prepared a presentation on the history of Syria, student Dan Price could not have asked for more attractive and meaningful surroundings to deliver his excellently prepared presentation than standing under the aqueduct archways, surrounded by sand and sea, seagulls and strong scent of history in the air.