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A collection of seals (bullae) from the late First Temple period, discovered in...
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Discovering Her Deep Origins

After many generations of longing and yearning for Jerusalem, Salamawit Pes-ha succeeded in fulfilling the innermost dream of her forefathers and immigrating to Israel. Now, with a Bachelor’s in General History and while working toward her Master’s in English Literature, Salamawit fulfills the dream every day anew. By actively participating in the archaeological excavations at the City of David, she is uncovering the story of the same ancient Jerusalem that her ancestors prayed for.

Just a few dozen meters separate the Western Wall plaza, buzzing with people and prayers, and the silent Givati Parking Lot – the largest archaeological excavation site in Jerusalem, located within the City of David National Park.

On a wooden bench at the side of the huge site that stretches across an area of approximately 40 dunams, two smiling women sit alongside three young men. At their feet stand heavy buckets, from which they pull out shards of pottery extracted from the depths of the earth just a short time ago. The rim of a pot, handle of a jug and an array of other artifacts are placed alongside each other on the long table nearby. On the other side of the table, on a similar wooden bench, a charming, shy young woman named Salamawit Pes-ha sifts out of the dirt small pieces of memories that come together to make a complete story. She washes the small shards gently with clean water and reveals reliefs and etchings, decorations and letters.

Wearing the Queen Helena earring at the excavation site just minutes after the two thousand year old earring was found.

“Archaeology is not a man’s work, although it is seen that way,” Salamawit states confidently. She explains that although excavation work requires great physical exertion, she believes that women actually have an advantage in this type of work because they “are more delicate and notice small details.”

Salamawit began her archeological work many years ago after hearing that the City of David National Park was looking for excavators. “When I heard about the work, I was immediately interested. First of all, because I have a very deep love of history, which I acquired during my academic studies. I also really love Bible studies and tradition, which I absorbed from my parents’ home.” Salamawit (35), a resident of Jerusalem, immigrated to Israel from Gondar, Ethiopia when she was 10 years old.

“As a young girl, Jerusalem was like the Garden of Eden in my mind,” she relates. “I thought that anyone who dies comes back to life in Jerusalem.” However, when she reached Israel, the reality hit her in the face. “The mentality of disrespect for teachers and adults was very difficult for me,” she recalls. She had an especially hard time seeing “people driving on the Sabbath in the Holy Land.”

She immigrated to Israel with her mother and three siblings. The last time she saw her father, who was a soldier in the Ethiopian army, was when she was 4 years old. Until today, this painful mystery remains unsolved. She explains that during the early 1980’s, after he requested to immigrate to Israel, all contact with him was lost. According to the assumptions she raises with teary eyes, “the Sudanese army, who arrested my father with the other people who tried to immigrate to Israel by foot during Operation Moses, sealed his fate because he was an Ethiopian soldier.”

“I lost my father. This dream of the Land of Israel that generations of my ancestors dreamed makes things much more meaningful in comparison with someone who was born here and doesn’t know any other reality.”

“The dream and desire and yearning that my great-grandmother and my grandmother cherished in their hearts was not fulfilled by them, and they did not merit immigrating to Israel. Today, I am living their dream. The fact that after generations of yearning for Jerusalem, I am today digging in Jerusalem and uncovering with the other excavators the story of ancient Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, makes me feel that I have come full circle.”

Over her years of working, Salamawit took part in the discovery of an array of exciting artifacts: a hairpin belonging to a woman from the Muslim period, handles of Rhodian jugs with seals from the time of Herod’s reign, intact vessels and figurines, as well as jugs from the Roman period. “Every day, I would come to work and anticipate a surprise,” she relates. “One day, I came to work as usual. We sifted dirt until suddenly, I found a piece of pottery that had fingerprints on it. I was so moved! I felt that not only is our past not dead, it is coming to life every day, and I’m a part of that.”

On another occasion, they found coins from the Hasmonean period while digging. “I remember that I hurried to tell my mother about this amazing find, and I described to her how I lifted out of the dirt coins that were used by the Hasmoneans so many years ago. My mother was really enthusiastic about it.”

Currently, Salamawit is completing her Master’s studies in English Literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She shares that at the start of her academic career, she wanted to pursue a Bachelor’s in English Literature, but one of the professors advised her not to learn an unfamiliar language and said she may not be very successful. As a result, she registered to pursue a Bachelor’s in History, but she refused to give up on her dream. Parallel to the demanding university studies, Salamawit took courses to improve her English. Later, she looked back in satisfaction, after being easily accepted to the Master’s program in English Literature.

On one excavation day, Salamawit was involved in the discovery of one very significant artifact that seems to tell her own personal story. While excavating, a gold earring from the late Roman period was discovered in a structure attributed to the Adiabene family, the family of Queen Helena. She remembers how taken aback she was by the earring’s perfectly intact state and how the gold and pearls glistened as if they were new. It was impossible to guess that just a few minutes earlier, the earring had been lifted out of the depths of the earth where it was concealed for 2,000 years. The archaeologist in charge of the excavation asked her to put on the earring in order to take a picture of it. “At first, I thought she was just joking, but I quickly realized that she was serious – that picture appears in the guiding material used by the City of David tour guides.”

“This is the place where I connect to my roots,” Salamawit at the City of David excavation site.

A jewelry collection incorporating precious stones and pearls was inspired by the dazzling earring, sold today at the City of David Store.

Salamawit, who had the privilege of wearing the “Queen Helena Earring” just moments after it was discovered, succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling above her on more than one occasion. “I could have chosen to earn a living in many other ways, but I chose to work at the City of David because this is a place with meaning. I come to work, but I know that it’s not just a job, it’s a place where I connect to my roots and to my national identity. Today, I can say with all my heart: the nation of Israel lives on!”

 

After many generations of longing and yearning for Jerusalem, Salamawit

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