The highlight of our visit was the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. This traveling exhibit, housed at the California Science Center through September 7, showcases the archaeology of ancient Israel, from the Biblical period of Kings Saul, David and Solomon (the Iron Age) to the era shortly following the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE). The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin boy in 1947, in a cave near the Dead Sea. Thanks to the darkness, low humidity and high temperatures in that cave, these scrolls were remarkably well preserved. At the California Science Center, only small portions of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls are presented for public viewing. Before seeing them, we were introduced to a multitude of other fascinating antiquities. We saw a model of a four-room house inhabited by Jews of old, constructed with rooms for animals on its lower floor. Other impressive artifacts included idols, sacrificial altars, coins, and royal jugs. Some small female figurines were said to be of unknown purpose; my wife suggested that they were dolls. An audio guide told of ten thousand fish bones found in the City of David in Jerusalem, probably from the time of King David, evidence of sophisticated trade among the countries in the region.
The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition made our children’s education seem more real, and reinforced the idea of Judaism as a continuous, vibrant heritage. It provided a glimpse into the society of ancient Israel, showing items and practices that are still part and parcel of Jewish life. Among the displayed scrolls were fragments of Biblical verses and portions of a ketuba, a traditional Jewish marriage contract. Our children were able to read parts of the scrolls, which were written in an ancient form of the Hebrew alphabet. In addition, they learned firsthand information about Biblical stories that they knew. For example, the exhibition told of sacrificial monuments made by King Yerovam as an alternative to the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. It also told of tunnels built by King Hezkiyahu to protect the Jews from attack by the Assyrians. One artifact was a Tyrian coin, brought to the Temple as a tax, which had to be exchanged for a new coin, due to the Biblical prohibition against graven images. The exhibit seemed to resonate most powerfully with my daughter, the eldest of our six children, who had learned extensively about those eras.
Another source of inspiration came from a most unexpected source: the gift shop. I bought the kids a home electronics kit, to give them some real-world scientific experience. It includes various components, such as transistors and LED lights. On the box were pictures of some great things that they could put together, like a burglar alarm and a reading light. The younger kids were fascinated.
We brought it home and soon got to work. Two of our five boys joined me in opening the box and finding the parts required for the first activity. It was an electrical conductivity tester, designed to check how well electricity can flow through a circuit or other medium. Following the instructions, we found the necessary printed circuit board, resistor, wires, light, and other items. The boys were dismayed to learn that the project called for a 9-volt battery; they were sure that we had none at home. I soon relieved their distress by finding one. With great excitement, they assembled the few required household items: salt, water, and soil.
My sons experienced the joy of discovery, as we put together an electrical circuit, step by step. I showed them how to attach brass tacks to the circuit board with springs, and helped them to cut the necessary red and black wires. Together, we followed the process of attaching the resistor in the correct spot and connecting the wires, light and battery where they belonged. Finally, the moment of truth arrived. We inserted the dangling ends of a red wire and a black wire into a cup of salt water, and the LED lit up! Encouraged by their initial success, the boys couldn’t wait to test their new invention on several additional materials: plain water, cooking oil and moist soil in the yard. Now, they eagerly anticipate our next project, a plant watering monitor.