Category Archives: Research


“If not now, when?” Who was Hillel the Elder?

… and what does he have to do with the goals of JCAD (American Friends of the Jerusalem Center for Artistic Development)?

Hillel the Elder, born in Babylon, in 110 BCE, lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus. Both Hillel and Moses lived 120 years!! Unlike Moses, at the age of forty, Hillel went to the Land of Israel; forty years he spent in study; and the last third of his life he was the spiritual head of the Jewish people. His activity of forty years likely covered the period of 30 BCE to 10 CE, when he died.

Hillel the Elder contributed to a famous treatise called the Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot).

The book was a compilation of famous rabbis’ wisdom for mankind to aspire to the highest level of ethical and moral behavior.  Hillel is credited with the following thought-provoking questions, which have been passed down for more than 2,000 years:

If I am not for myself, who is for me?” Hillel tells us that we must love ourselves enough to be “for” ourselves, since there is no one else who would or could do this on our behalf.

And when I am only for myself, what am I?” We should not be tempted to be self-absorbed and forget about the Almighty and our fellow man.

And if not now, when?” We need to get going and soar like birds and take leaps of faith!

All you have to do is take a walk on the stone streets of Jerusalem and read the street signs, the door posts; see the indentations in the doorways where ancient Mazzuzot were affixed; gaze at the rooftops in certain sections of town, and walk down the narrow alleyways where only a donkey and a cart can still pass.  Today you will see young people with their Smart Phones and cellphones; you will see wine glasses and hear the laughter of crowds on a warm summer evening; or see a mound of snow caressing a stone wall that is a thousands years old; or walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and smell the incense; step out onto a wide piazza and buy fresh-baked pita or laffa bread spread thick with chummous.

  • The stones upon which Jesus walked and preached during the Second Temple period (538 BCE-   70 AD) are located on an enormous mount, now called the Temple Mount.
  • The stones upon which Avraham offered Itzhak to God, (an area called Mount Moriah in the Bible), are on the Temple Mount.
  • The stones where The Holy of Holies is buried are under the Temple Mount!
  • The stones leading to King David’s tomb are in Jerusalem and close to the Temple Mount.
  • And the City of David, where King David’s palace is under excavation is in Jerusalem, close to the Temple Mount!
  • The remains of The First Temple and The Second Temple are in Jerusalem, under the Temple Mount.
  • The retaining wall of the First and Second Temple is part of the foundation of the Temple Mount.
  • And cisterns, sarcophagi, tunnels, pottery, coins, artifacts, jewelry, human and animal remains from thousands of years ago are in Jerusalem!

If you have a story to tell, “If not now, when?” is what you might ask yourself.  Walking amongst the stones of the Bible may inspire you.  A character in the Bible might inspire you to tell a modern parable; think up an action/adventure story; come up with a political intrigue or drama or love story.  It’s all under your feet.  Those stones all tell a story.  It’s time!!

The Worm Who Could Cut Stone © Or The Importance of Doing Your H.W.!!

When writing a novel, screenplay, stage play, or documentary, the importance of research is paramount.  In order for your story to have credence, depth, originality, believability, you must do your homework!!

It is one thing to come up with a salable high concept that is clever, unique, never-before produced. HOWEVER, your audience is not stupid.  They hate to be swindled.  No matter where your setting is, you need to do your H.W. and get down the “where, when, why, and how” part of your story.  Even the “who” part will become more clear as you do your research.

Let’s say, you’ve got an idea of a modern-day character, an archaeologist, who lives in Jerusalem, but who is giving a lecture in Switzerland.  Your genre is action adventure.  Your character has discovered a stone that is 5,000 years old, but was not affixed to other stones with metal of any kind, yet was laid in a perfect line, with cement, and the walls of a particular structure are thirty feet high.

Here’s some history that is the result of just a tiny bit of research:

In 832 BCE, King David wanted to build the Temple, but because he was Israel’s great warrior and had shed much blood, he could not be the one to build the Temple in Jerusalem.  His son, Solomon (Shlomo), was chosen through one of the prophets to build the Temple.  As part of the process, God told Solomon to not cut the stones with metal utensils or tools because metal symbolizes the sword. Therefore, Solomon had to figure out a way to cut the stones for the construction of the Temple.  In a dream, he saw a unique worm that had the ability to cut away at stone.  Subsequently, God revealed to him this miraculous worm that was able to cut the stones for the Temple.

The worm was called the Ashmodi, in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate of Shabbat.

Now, maybe you don’t “buy” the information that came to Solomon in a dream—But your characters do!  They believe in prophets and dreams and in the ancient men of the period who talked to God.  Why?  Well, you have to give these believers a history that would tie them to such a belief.  Maybe they saw this worm at work.  Maybe there was testimony in texts.

 In any case, a bit more of research about Jerusalem will give you a sense of where your archaeologist character comes from, which in turn, will make your story more believable:

Your character’s home is Jerusalem.

Jerusalem stands on the crest of the Judean hills at an elevation of 2,577 feet above sea-level, 13 miles west of the Dead Sea, 32 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea, and roughly 80 miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  Founded more than 5,000 years ago, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the Jewish people.

 Recommended reading: Traveling With the Bible, by Galia Doron.  Take book in hand and envision a walk through time over stone steps.  Remember that the steps can tell the stories of both ancient and modern mankind in Israel, the Holy Land, and the world.  In the book, suggested hikes with level of difficulty are given for each historical/biblical site.  Quotations from the Bible and references are included for each site you will visit.  Whether you come to Israel or just read about the history, the information will help you with your story lines.