Though separated by 4,000 years and more than 6,000 miles, Road Scholar’s headquarters building in Boston and an archaeological dig in Tel Dor, Israel are bonded by a bit of serendipity. It all started when a professor from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was spending a year as a visiting professor at Boston University, walked by Road Scholar headquarters on his morning commute to work.

The outside of our building is decorated with inspiring quotes from our participants about fulfilling dreams, learning and travelling the world. Professor Ilan Sharon is the inquisitive type and after passing Road Scholar H.Q. a number of times, he decided to do a little research. When he learned about our mission and browsed through the different programs we offer, he decided to reach out to us. He had an idea.

My phone rang one afternoon, and the man on the other end introduced himself and proceeded to tell me about a new program he thought we should develop. Intrigued to learn more, I invited him to speak with me and our team that develops new programs. When we met in person, Professor Sharon and his Boston University colleague, Professor S. Rebecca Martin, explained that they lead Boston University students on archaeological digs in a Bronze Age site on the Mediterranean coast in Israel called Tel Dor. They could arrange for our participants to do the same — to actually participate in the dig. Road Scholars could rotate through the gamut of archaeological fieldwork, including excavation, conservation and museum curation.

What convinced me of the exceptional opportunity before us was a surprising revelation from the professors: Discoveries are not made by dig directors alone, but by the workers who actually lift the artifacts and objects out of the ground and treat them thereafter. Some of these skills take years to master. But others require a minimal learning curve and can be done by laymen with professional supervision. It sounded like an incredible opportunity, the kind of unique experience that embodies why I love working at Road Scholar.

Before coming to Road Scholar, my background was in commercial travel. My job was to create tours that had mass appeal. Why I’m so passionate about my work at Road Scholar today is that we offer experiences that no one else does. We do offer popular programs that hundreds of people enroll in a year, but we also offer experiences that are designed for a small group of people with a specific interest. An archaeological dig in Israel fits the latter category, and a few months later we were on an airplane to Israel to see the site for ourselves.

As soon as we arrived, we could tell at once we had come across something special. The dig site is right out of the movies — earth scraped bare through careful excavation has exposed a warren of ancient structures and layers and layers of history that reveal a wealth of information about the Iron Age, Persian, Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. It sits right on the shore, with sea breezes and turquoise waters of the Mediterranean crashing on the rocks. It was obvious why 4,000 years ago the original settlers decided to make this place their home.

We went to work coordinating all the logistics and putting the whole experience together. We met with staff from the site that was excited to be working with and sharing its expertise with Road Scholars from North America. For those participants who weren’t up for the physical demands of an archaeological dig, there were opportunities to help in the nearby air-conditioned museum. And of course, we had to include expert-led explorations of sites in Jerusalem, such as the City of David, Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The only time the dig site would be available for us would be July, which can be hot in Israel, but we created the schedule so that we’ll be working in the cool of the morning. We also found a fantastic hotel for our group to use just outside of Tel Dor. It’s a small, charming place that we know you will love.

With all the details in place, we announced two dates this coming July in our recent January catalog. Just a few weeks later and already 10 people have enrolled — what a thrill! I love to think that thanks to a strolling professor in Boston, there will be groups of Road Scholars digging up thousands of years of history on the ancient shores of Israel this summer. The world works in mysterious ways, indeed.

 

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