As the candles glisten, let’s go back to the land of the Chanukah story. According to the book of Maccabees I, the Hasmonean Revolt against the Seleucid Greeks began in the city of Modi’in in the year 167 BCE. When construction of the modern city of Modi’in began in the 1990s, archeological excavations began to reveal Modi’in of the past. These excavations have yielded finds from all eras of history until today. Many of these finds are on display at the Hasmonean Heritage Museum.
This museum is fascinating. Its cutting-edge technology brings history and archeology to life in a way that is fun and engaging for kids (and adults). The top floor hosts a film that brings its viewers back to Modi’in of the Chashmonaim. As one sits on the benches that move up and down and from side to side, it almost feels like an amusement park ride. Viewers will find themselves completely immersed in a time machine traveling back to the days of the Chanukah story with a clever, modern twist.
Downstairs, slightly past the entrance, is an interactive timeline. As one hovers over a historical time period, the visitor can see samples of artifacts discovered from that era. The location where individual artifacts were found lights up on a map of Modi’in, and additional information about the object and era become available on the screen.
After finishing the timeline, guests enter a large hall with various stations, all of which have an interactive activity to teach kids (and adults) about archeology. We’ll begin with the coin hunt. Tables full of sand are available for visitors to search for replicas of ancient coins. Once you find one, you can put it on a scanner and the screen will tell you when it was used and who issued it. In the adjacent display case, you can see various original coins discovered in Modi’in, including a hoard of coins with the image of Antiochus VII and his brother.
At the second station one can learn about a common find in archeology—clay vessels. Various shards of pottery are on display. But now it’s your turn to be the archeologist! Try your hand at putting together the clay shards to form a jug. It’s like a puzzle. When you’re done, scan it to learn more about what this jug was used for and how it was made. The one jug of oil found when the Jews rededicated the Beit Hamikdash must have looked something like this.
At the third station, visitors can explore a replica of an ancient burial cave from the time of the second Beit Hamikdash, when the Chanukah story took place. Burial during that time was different than we know it today. After a year, the deceased’s bones were collected into a stone chest called an “ossuary” or a “גלוסקמה” for secondary burial. Various such ossuaries can be seen at the museum.
At the fourth station, you can excavate Modi’in without getting dirty at all. In this virtual excavation, you can hover over different sites of a map of Modi’in to “dig” and discover what was found there.
Among the exciting finds discovered in Modi’in are the ruins of a Hashmonai village at Umm el-Umdan. There, the remains of an ancient synagogue were uncovered. On the wall of the museum you can see fragments of fresco decorations that once adorned this synagogue.
Going back in time to the era of the Chashmonaim and learning more about their daily life can enhance our appreciation of the story of Chanukah. As Hashem protected us in the days of the Chashmonaim, may we be privileged to again see His miracles as He fights our battles and gives us respite from our enemies. Happy Chanukah!
Hava Preil is an enthusiastic licensed Israeli tour guide. She grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and holds an MA in Judaic studies. Hava has developed and taught accredited courses in Tanach and Jewish ethics for Naaleh/Woodmont College and Cybersem. She currently lives in Givat Ze’ev, Israel with her family. Hava can be reached at IL:054-844-1579, USA: 845-391-0438 or at [email protected]. Visit her new website, https://havapreiltours.com. She is currently offering virtual tours of various sites in Israel—a perfect activity for your school, synagogue or youth group.