Saving the Stones offers insights into history and heritage

Saving the Stones offers insights into history and heritage

[by Cynthia Canada, Special to Community ]

If you’re thinking about a trip to Israel and you’re looking for a new perspective, the Old City of Acre may be the place to start.

Old Acre is the location of the International Conservation Center, which offers programs that can open up new views on life in Israel over the centuries. Director Shelley-Anne Peleg, who visited Louisville in April with a Partnership 2Gether delegation from Western Galilee, shared information about exciting opportunities to experience the region and even the country differently.

The Old City of Acre was designated in 2001 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to the program guide of the International Conservation Center, the city has more than 50,000 residents, “all contributing to the cultural mosaic where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Bahai, live in exemplary coexistence.” Acre is a Mediterranean port city, home to millennia of world cultures, from Hellenistic to the British Mandate.

The Center offers a range of historic conservation and preservation programs that provide insight into life in historic Israel from a very real and concrete vantage point. And while the programs are based in Old Acre, they take participants all over the country, from Tiberias and Cesarea to Jerusalem, and into active archaeological digs as well as labs such as those where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept.

As Peleg said in April, when she spoke with Community editor Shiela Steinman Wallace and Jewish Community of Louisville Marketing Director Ben Goldenberg, “The entire country is my playground.” She encourages Louisvillians to consider coming to Israel to take advantage of these opportunities by enrolling in the “Saving the Stones” program.

“Saving the Stones” is an academic program geared toward young adults – students and professionals, particularly those in the fields of preservation and conservation, anthropology and history, urban planning and design, and related disciplines. Three months of foundational study in research documentation, survey methods and treatment planning cover both theoretical and practical aspects of archaeological research and conservation fieldwork. An optional two-month advanced practicum allows participants to apply their newfound knowledge to personal research.

For those with less time to devote to such studies, the Center offers a five-week summer intensive that introduces participants to historic preservation, heritage conservation and conservation techniques. The summer intensive is open to all adults – the only requirement is a compelling concern for historic preservation.

It combines practical and theoretical training with hands-on experience at ongoing national conservation projects, including the medieval castle ruins of Yehaiam and the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City, and study of historic building technologies dating to the Ottoman era in Old Acre, among other projects.

And then there’s summer camp! Camp Conservation is a 14-day workshop – perfect “vacation-length” – open to all interested adults, from novices to those with more research experience. Its primary focus is preservation of the historic Ottoman Governor’s Mansion in Old Acre, and it also includes tours of sites in the Western Galilee, such as the Rosh Hanikra Grottos, Achziv Beach and nature reserve, the Kabri Aqueduct, and the Sea of Galilee and surrounding area.

The Center also has openings for volunteers who want to live and work in this fascinating historic venue.

Visiting Israel often has the effect of helping belief to find its taproot, nourishing believers’ faith and understanding and contributing to growth and a sense of unity among even those who consider themselves secular Jews. Involvement in historic preservation can take the experience to the next level, creating very real ties to centuries past and breathing life into what previously were simply stories or topics for discussion. To delve into one’s historic and religious heritage in such a concrete way is to step into and participate in history – to bring it to life for others to see and experience.

Historic preservation studies also can build on one’s knowledge base in other, more pragmatic ways. The Center’s website includes the experiences of a law school student focusing on real estate and land use law, who took home an expanded understanding of architecture that has helped her with related questions, and a graduate student in Geographic Information Systems, who gained insight into integrating cultures, as well as building valuable experience in repurposing historic structures.

The cost of all programs covers meals, accommodation, workshops and lectures, and exclusive access to historic sites throughout Israel. It also includes the cost of transportation during the programs. Transportation to and from Old Acre is not included, nor are personal expenses. Scholarships are available for “Saving the Stones.” (Accommodations are not provided for volunteers.)

For more information, visit the Center’s website,, or on Facebook (“Saving the Stones”).

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