Igal Hecht filming Secrets of the Land. (photo from Chutzpa Productions Inc.)
The Western Wall area, with thousands of metres of subterranean space, contains much that is yet to be discovered. The latest find in this space is a market. While not open to the public, people can get a glimpse of the ancient market on the new Yes TV documentary series Secrets of the Land, directed, produced and written by Israeli-Canadian filmmaker Igal Hecht.
Each episode of Secrets of the Land, which is presented by Chutzpa Productions Inc., takes viewers behind the scenes of substantial excavations in Israel, and features some of the region’s top archeologists and most historically significant sites. The series debuted March 15, and runs each week for 13 episodes.
In addition to on-site discoveries, Hecht visits the labs that explore the meanings of each artifact.
“I realized that the way archaeology is explored today is very CSI,” said Hecht, referring to the popular television series. “The excavations themselves might be low-tech, but everything that comes after, such as carbon dating and things along those lines are very high-tech.”
One of many examples is when archeologists found grape seeds in 2,000-year-old donkey feces and, through that, determined the types of people who lived in the area.
Hecht and his crew – which included Lior Cohen, Gabriel Volcovich, Nikki Greenspan and Julian Hoffman – take viewers on a journey through various parts of the Holy Land. Hecht said he learned something every step of the way.
“I had very little knowledge [of archeology],” Hecht told the Independent. “In fact, in the show, I don’t pretend that I do. That makes the show work. I am there experiencing the discoveries in the same manner that the audience does, as they watch at home.”
Among many sites, the crew visited Timna, the location of Solomon’s Mines, where Hecht was awed by the landscape. “The rock formation is something you’d see in Petra in Jordan or the Grand Canyon,” he said. “There’s so much beauty and history to explore there.”
Other locales included Tower of David, also known as the Citadel, located near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. There’s also an episode about Shiloh, in Samaria, or the West Bank, where the Israelites, prior to King David’s time, set up a sanctuary and city, and where the Ark of the Covenant was housed for hundreds of years. Meanwhile, Magdala is home to an ancient city from the first century, where recent excavations revealed the Migdal Synagogue, dating from the Second Temple.
Over the past quarter-century, Hecht has been involved in the production of more than 50 documentary films and more than 20 television series. His projects have appeared on Netflix, BBC, Documentary Channel, CBC, HBO Europe, and others. Secrets of the Land is the latest in a string of Jewish-themed films, such as A Universal Language, which taped six comedians performing in Israel. An upcoming project includes The Jewish Shadow, a documentary that explores the lives of Soviet Jews in 1970s Ukraine.
For Hecht, Secrets of the Land wasn’t merely a project, but very much a passion to do his part to help the Jewish people.
“I think the biggest takeaway for Jewish audiences is the historical and unbreakable connection of the Jewish people to that land,” he said. “That archeology truly proves that the Jews were, in fact, living in Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem and all over the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago.”
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world. His website is davegordonwrites.com.