Sunday, May 01, 2011

Joseph Aviram and Yigael Yadin

Joseph Aviram, long-time secretary of the Israel Exploration Society and associated with the organization since 1940, is profiled in the Jerusalem Post magazine by Abraham Rabinovich.  As the article title suggests, the piece is as much about Aviram’s friend and colleague, Yigael Yadin.  Access to the story requires a paid subscription to the Premium service.

Ninety-five-year-old Yosef Aviram, at the center of archeological research here for 70 years, has a surprising answer when asked why archeology has disappeared as the country’s national pastime.

“The death of Yigael Yadin. There has been no one else with his charisma.”

Charisma, scholarship, luck and, especially, Yadin’s exceptional ability to turn dry fact into high drama succeeded for decades in mobilizing the broad Israeli public in the hunt for the nation’s roots. Enthusiasm was measured in large headlines, passionate public debates and overflowing lecture halls. Through it all, Aviram, a non-archeologist, was at Yadin’s right hand as his administrative support and close confidant. The excitement of the era would endure long after Yadin’s death, 27 years ago.

Still vigorous, Aviram occupies the desk at the Israel Exploration Society (IES), where he reigned as secretary until last year when he was appointed president, a change in title that has not reduced his five-day-a week, nine-to-five work schedule.

“My main interest now is preparing for the society’s centenary in two years, if I should live so long,” he says.

[…]

In 1963 Aviram flew to London to visit with Yadin, who was there on sabbatical. Aviram repeated his request that the archeologist come to grips with Masada. Yadin, who relied on Aviram as an organizer and administrator, said, “I’m ready to do it now if you join me.”

Says Aviram: “He decided to base the expedition this time not on laborers but on hundreds of volunteers from all over the world – not to save money but to harness the volunteers’ zeal.”

When, at a dinner party in London, Yadin mentioned his plans to the editor of The Observer, David Astor, the newsman responded with enthusiasm. His newspaper would underwrite much of the cost of the expedition in return for exclusive stories and photographs.

The compelling but contentious symbolism of Masada – a blend of heroism and fanaticism – and the dazzling setting of the site made for a spectacular narrative. The excavation between 1963 and 1965 was carried out in two seasons, each of half a year, opening the way for the desert mount’s becoming a major tourist site.

The full article is here (subscription required).

HT: Joe Lauer

Masada excavations, Yadin's headquarters, db6503030708

Yadin’s excavation camp at Masada, March 1965.
Photo from Views That Have Vanished.

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