I had a visit this week from Rabbi Yehuda Maly, who has made his life’s work the excavation of the City of David in Jerusalem, where 3000 years ago, King David established the capital of Israel. Rabbi Maly has been working on this project for the past 30 years. He finds inspiration for his work in the Bible, notably in the story of Nehemiah, a Jew working as top aide to Artaxerxes, King of Persia, who came back to Jerusalem to rebuild the ruined temple 70 years after the Babylonian torching of the First Temple and expulsion of the Jews in 586 B.C.
Rabbi Maly was living in the Golan Heights as a settler in the 1970s and early 1980s. He came to Jerusalem in 1986 at the urging of his friend, David Be'eri, to look at the ruins of the City of David. They had to go in the middle of the night into an Arab neighborhood because it was at the time of the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising. They dug next to a nine-foot tower that looked like one that was mentioned by Nehemiah in the Bible. They determined to buy a plot of land and begin the excavations. The first major find was a tablet of the Siloam Inscription, from the eighth century B.C., which described the construction of a tunnel diverting the water of the Gihon Springs to the Pool of Siloam, by the chiseling of two groups of workers, chiseling in each direction before meeting in the middle, as noted in Kings and in Chronicles in the Bible.
Guided by other Biblical references, they worked to find the Pool of Siloam, the ritual bath used by Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem after their journey and before the ascent to the Temple Mount. They used hand tools and sieves, taking out the dirt manually from the tunnel for nearly 20 years. The full excavation of the Pool was completed in 2006. Then it was on to the Second Temple Pilgrimage Road, dating to the first century A.D. Digging underneath land owned by both Jews and Palestinians, Rabbi Maly and his team excavated an old water tunnel, which I have crawled along for half a mile and which is thought to have been the escape route for Jewish soldiers as the Romans burned the Second Temple. Then they found the main walkway, a set of stairs that carried hundreds of thousands of people each year up to the Temple Mount. The road widens to four times its standard width at a few junctures, which likely indicates plazas where pilgrims could rest as they ascended.
Throughout the excavation, Rabbi Maly has found a stone engraving of a Menorah and silver half-shekel coins dating to the period just before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. He has given me an ancient coin and a small jug used to store wine. Rabbi Maly told me that uncovering findings from the Early Muslim Period, the Byzantine Period, the Roman Period, and from both the First and Second Temple Periods, is an incredible experience for his entire team. As part of connecting to the past of the nation, most new recruits into the Israeli Army are taken to the City of David to walk up to the Wailing Wall.
I believe in the transformative power of individuals who find a way around every obstacle, getting up after being knocked down again and again. Goethe has a wonderful line in Faust, “I love the ones who crave the impossible.” We need more people in the world to follow the example of Rabbi Maly and his friend David Be'eri, the indomitable diggers and historians.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.