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Where History Comes Alive

Meet One of Our Past Brandeis University Participants

Emily Dana
Emily Dana Birthright Israel

Emily, originally from the suburbs of Chicago, is a 19 year-old sophmore at Brandeis University where she is studying Classical Studies. When she is not learning languages or talking about topics pertaining to ancient studies, Emily is volunteering at the Hillel on her campus or playing board games with friends. This past winter Emily went on Birthright Israel with Brandeis University and learned more about Classical Studies than she could have imagined! 

I expected to be thinking a lot about Judaism and Jewish history on my Birthright Israel trip with Brandeis University. I mean, we were traveling to the Jewish homeland. I did not, however, expect that my Classical Studies Major (Ancient Roman and Greek history and language) would end up being incredibly useful. It all started when we got off the bus in Caesaria, the capital of Palestine in the Roman days. The remains of this city include an aqueduct, an amphitheatre, a hippodrome, a roman toilet or two and some assorted columns among other things. This was not all that exciting to my friends on my trip, but I was overjoyed because it isn’t very often that my two fields of study converge. Also, I had just taken Roman Art and Archaeology and was pretty excited to talk about it. 

As we walked onto the beach, my tour guide approached me and asked me to talk about the Roman architecture. You can imagine by delight. I got to talk about how the Romans invented concrete which allowed them to build theaters on flat surfaces as opposed to on hills like the Greeks did. I got to talk about what the difference between a theater and an ampitheater is, and I got to explain the fact that while the Greeks influenced the Romans a lot, the Romans did, in fact, make significant advancements in architecture. Now, you probably don’t really care about all of that, but give me a moment to tell you why it was important to me. From that moment on, from the moment that I started to explain the miracle of aqueducts, I became the “resident classicist” on our trip. For the rest of our trip to Caesaria, I heard people shout, “Emily,” and once I would turn around, they would ask me a question about the time period that the Romans occupied Palestine or just “what’s that Roman ruin and why is it there?” While I adored Caesaria and thanked my staffers profusely for allowing us to travel there, I thought that the questions and the eager expectation of knowledge from me would stop there. But it didn’t. 

It’s almost impossible to explain the significance of Masada without talking about the Romans. We walk up the Roman ramp for goodness sakes, but I somehow forgot about all this until we got to the top of Masada where I was surprised by even more Roman ruins. And with those Roman ruins came more questions that I was more than happy to answer thanks to 10 years of Latin class and two years of Classical Studies courses. I answered questions about the architecture and how it compared to the ruins that are in Rome itself. Providing information about the destruction of the Second Temple and the Jewish revolt from the Roman side became my job. People expected me to know things, and for once, I did. I knew that Titus conquered Jerusalem while his father Vespasian was emperor. All of these facts that I didn’t even know were in my head were suddenly of interest to those around me; they weren’t uninterested like most people are when I try to talk about Roman history. And that excitement, that eagerness to make the connections between the sites in Israel, a Jewish state, and Roman and Greek history, was a pretty nice reminder that sometimes, everything can come together in a beautiful collision of present, past and future.


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