Digging into the Israel Museum

As one of a group of celebrities leading tours at the Israel Museum, Osem’s Dan Propper will be showcasing archeological exhibits.

Israel Museum gallery 521 (photo credit: Elie Posner)
Israel Museum gallery 521
(photo credit: Elie Posner)
Dan Propper has been a leading public figure for some time. He has been one of our more successful industrialists for many years, is a longtime president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel and serves as CEO and chairman of food giant Osem. But behind the worldly businesslike exterior of the 71-year-old business maven beats the heart of an Indiana Jones.
Actually, associating Propper with Harrison Ford’s signature film role might be stretching things a bit, but it is fair to say that the industrialist has a hankering for things archeological. He will put that love to good effect on Monday evening when he leads members of the public around some of the Israel Museum’s archeological exhibits as part of the Artichoke program.
The tour guides in the event include celebrities from various walks of life, who will enlighten members of the public about some of the items on display in fields in which they have a special interest. The VIP guides include leading PR professional Ran Rahav, who will take people around the Pop Art section; Shaare Zedek Medical Center chief, Prof. Yonatan Halevy, who will impart his knowledge of the museum’s hanukkiot collection; while singer Osnat Shir Vishinski and fellow vocalist and comic Moti Giladi will lead an entertaining tour of the Italian synagogue on the museum’s grounds.
Meanwhile, Israel Museum director James Snyder will oversee an in-depth encounter with the museum’s latest high-profile addition, Botticelli’s The Annunciation, and playwright Edna Maziah will extend the archeological spread of the Artichoke proceedings with her guided tour of the glittering Herod exhibition.
Propper, like his colleagues on the Artichoke roster, is only too happy to set his regular professional duties aside for an hour or two and share with others his love of the finds stored at the museum.
“Archeology has always interested me, but for many years I have been wrapped up in long hours of hard work,” says Propper. “Archeology has always had a place in my heart as have other fields, such as scientific innovation, particularly in chemistry. That’s why I studied chemical engineering.”
Still, archeology has fascinated Propper since he was a youngster, from two main aspects.
“I enjoy examining cultures of the past and seeing how they evolved,” he says, “but I am predominantly interested in the connection between archeology and the Bible.”
Mind you, it is not that Propper is looking to bring anyone into the fold through the archeology-Bible bond.
“I am not a religious person, and I don’t relate to the Bible in a religious way. For me, the Bible is – other than providing a basis for the Jewish people over the generations – the story of the Jewish people. It is intriguing to see the link between the history of the Land of Israel and the stories in the Bible,” he says.
Day job demands notwithstanding, Propper performed a similar function to the Artichoke circuit a year ago at a gala event for the Friends of the Israel Museum.
“If you look at biblical episodes that feature figures like King Hezekiah and King Uzziah, you can find a direct parallel between the events related in the Bible and the archeological finds,” he says. And finding is believing.
“That adds credibility to the content of the Bible, although an observant Jew has no need of that credibility, but a secular Jew can find evidence for the accuracy of the Bible through archeology. You get the sense that what is in the Bible is the actual reality,” he says.
Propper also feels that the Israel Museum’s archeological treasures can provide the visitor with something of a semivirtual whistle stop tour of the country.
“The finds collected by the museum are among the finest in the country. The items are displayed in historical order rather than pertaining to a geographical arrangement; but for us Israelis, they are also of great geographic importance,” he says.
Even so, for Propper there is nothing like getting out and about.
“You can travel around the country and see all the names of the towns and other places that stem from the names of the biblical communities that once existed. I like seeing that sense of continuity from biblical times and where things appear in the Bible,” he says, adding that delving into the Scriptures and trying to tie them in with contemporary Israel can be an eye-opening exercise.
“People who do not engage with the Bible or archeology are often surprised by the synchronicity between the two,” he notes.
While Propper says he never really wanted to get down and dirty and experience the thrills and toil that go with excavating, his professional duties have brought him close to a site of great archeological importance.
“Osem’s Logistics Center at Shoham, near Route 6, is built on a site that was once Tel Bareket, which was excavated by a team from Tel Aviv University,” he says.
In fact, in retrospect, some of the finds may have pointed the way to the site’s current line of manufacturing activity.
“They unearthed some wonderful finds, including cooking utensils and food production tools, which we now have on display at Osem. My motto is, ‘They produced food here 5,000 years ago.’ These are the roots of the company, and we are only continuing that work,” says Propper.
Tel Bareket dates from the early Bronze Age, and the pre-Osem dig revealed impressive architectural remains that offered evidence that the site was once home to a prosperous city.
But Propper is looking to get away from his day job on Monday.
“I will not be focusing on cooking pots and that sort of thing at the Israel Museum,” he states. “What interest me are the finds that show the direct connection between historical events and the Bible, such as burnt finds that are dated to the time when some settlement was destroyed in a battle. I find that fascinating,” he says.
Propper is also drawn to the tangible evidence provided by archeology in an era when such vast amounts of virtual information are accessible at the click of a computer mouse.
“The youth of today engage in so many wonderful things and feed off all the data they can get from the Internet,” he observes. “But I think it is important to see where all this information comes from. We should get back to our source, and that is the Bible; and the place of the Bible is this country.”