YESHANA LEWITTER, 18, of Highland Park has joined a team of archaeologists from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University excavating what they believe to be the ancient biblical city of Libnah.
Lewitter is a gap-year student on the university’s Israel Experience program. After hearing a talk by a biblical archaeologist, she joined her first dig.
“My job was to dig up a certain section and keep it level while looking for any artifacts,” she said. “I unearthed what were believed to be sheep bones and pieces of pottery, including handles and some pieces marked with stamps.
“I loved that I found pottery dating to the Judean period that archaeologists will use to help understand what happened back then,” said Lewitter. “It was really cool being part of something really big.”
Libnah is mentioned in the Book of Kings as the hometown of Hamutal, a wife of King Josiah who reigned in Judea (640-609 BCE). An important Judean city, it looked out to the Philistine capital city of Gath, home to the giant Goliath, famously slain by David.
The team of archaeologists began digging at the site near Kiryat Gat in 2009 and have already unearthed huge fortifications.
Field archaeologist Dr. Itzick Shai, who is project codirector, said the site “was important and well-fortified during the biblical period, and we have also found remains that correlate with the time of King Josiah.”
“It is really fantastic to touch the past,” he said. “Last week we discovered a pillar figurine, a find that can explain very well the call of the prophets against idol worship.”
Shai added that the success of such a project is based on volunteers like Lewitter; without them, he said, “we wouldn’t have any excavation season.”
Lewitter, a former student of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, is a member of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park. At Bar-Ilan she spends her mornings at Jewish learning seminars, and her afternoons in academic studies with regular trips around the country and opportunities to volunteer.
“I chose Israel Experience because it is a mixture of college and exploring Israel, which was exactly what I was looking for,” Lewitter said.
She has applied to the pre-med course at Rutgers University and said she hopes one day to work in emergency medicine.