Harpatka be’ir David (An adventure in the City of David)

Ahron Horovitz has written a children’s book that kids can really dig

Ahron Horovitz521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ahron Horovitz521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ahron Horovitz clearly wants our children to get down and dirty. Horovitz is senior director of Megalim, The Higher Institute of Jerusalem Studies. It is in this capacity that he does his best to interest the Israeli public, as well as people from abroad, in the history of the City of David as reflected in the wealth of archeological remains that have been excavated and are still coming to light in that part of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The director’s latest ploy to bring the younger crowd into the archeological domain takes the form of a book he has just put out entitled Harpatka be’ir David (which means “an adventure in the City of David”).
It tells the story of a couple of misfit kids who find themselves expelled from school but end up going on an extramural escapade and learning a lot about the history of Jerusalem in the process.
“We are the academic arm of the City of David,” explains Horovitz. “The City of David deals in tools and site development at the City of David, in Armon Hanatziv, the Mount of Olives and other places. Our goal is to connect as many people as possible to the experiential content, especially of ancient Jerusalem, whether through history, archeology or the Bible.”
Besides Harpatka be’ir David, there are plenty of books out there that people can read on all sorts of scientific and professional levels, but Horovitz believes that while written material provides important information, the real deal is about getting to the actual archeological sites to see how things really are.
“Archeology is not an exact science,” he says. “Tremendous emphasis is placed on how you interpret the finds, and you can have diametrically opposed views with exactly the same data. So we often say to people, ‘Why don’t you come and see it for yourself?’ We tell people they should come to the site with a professional. We have something we call Visit with an Investigator, where people go to a site and hear a professional speak about it. Of course, the investigator can also have his or her own bias, but at least you have direct and unfiltered exposure to the site itself.”
The institute’s outreach efforts are also channeled through the works they publish, and Harpatka be’ir David forms part of the institute’s efforts to spark people’s interest in archeology from an early age.
“We put out scientific and more popular works, but then we thought ‘Wait a minute, we are dealing with adults, people who are interested, people that know something, but what about kids?’ Jerusalem is the most fascinating story ever in the history of mankind.
There is no other place that has such really dramatic, interesting and deep stories, so why not enable younger people to also be part of that?” he says.
Surely, though, children get some sort of handle on the City of David at school. Not so, says Horovitz.
“Many younger people are going to visit the site and walk away with a totally unlearned impression,” observes Horovitz. “They go to the Hezekiah’s water tunnel, and they don’t have a clue about what they went through, except that they had a good time in the water.
The first thing the kids ask when they get to the tunnel is ‘When do we change our shoes? When do we go into the water?’ That’s a great shame because they miss a really good story, and it’s part of their heritage which, later on, they can be proud of and be part of.”
The said subterranean aqueduct features in Harpatka be’ir David which, in addition to being a gripping kids’ yarn, is richly illustrated with pictures that combine photographs of spots in the Old City of Jerusalem – both above ground and underground – with the animated figures of the heroes of the story strategically placed in the frame.
“I said to myself, ‘Let’s give the kids a story in a way they can relate to and later, when they come to the site’ – most kids in Israel are going to come to the site sooner or later – ‘they’ll get more of what it’s all about.’ So I put my academic things to one side for a while, and I sat down and wrote a children’s story. I wanted to make it engaging, so I made it into a story about two children who get into all sorts of adventures. They learn something about the Bible, they learn something about archeology, and they learn something about themselves, too.”
Horovitz says his new book is aimed at the eight-to-12 age group.
“It is a very impressionable age, and it is an age when it’s not a story that their mother reads to them before they go to bed. It’s for them to read on their own. The idea is to bring them in through the adventure and, by the way, they will learn who [British archeologist Charles] Warren was, and what a tel is and how an archeologist goes about deciding what is dated earlier and what is dated later, and layers and so on,” he says.
Warren discovered the City of David site in the 1860s as part of a Palestine Exploration Fund delegation to the Holy Land.
While Horovitz would, naturally, be delighted to have the new book on the bestseller list, he says he is not looking to sell millions of copies and that he just wants to get the archeological word out there to as many youngsters as possible.
“I don’t think I am going to compete with [highly successful children’s book author] Galila Ron-Feder, but I think there is a niche here for books that are both engaging and informative about different things that are part of our heritage, or general knowledge that is informative and interesting.”
Horovitz says he was also keen to make the book as aesthetically pleasing as possible.
“I think the real scoop of the book is the pictures and the caricatures in them. I wanted the figures to be in the photographs because I wanted the children to realize that this is not just a story, we are talking about real stuff here. This really exists, and the children can come and see the things with their own eyes if they want. There is a lot to see,” he asserts.
Harpatka be’ir David is currently available only in Hebrew, but the author says he is working on an English version, which he hopes to bring out in the next couple of months. •