(JNS) A little over a year ago, Arab rioters smashed the glass facade of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center during violence that gripped Israel’s mixed Arab-Jewish cities over the 2021 Gaza War.
On June 28, children from Arab and Jewish kindergartens waved Israeli flags to welcome Shelby White and other dignitaries, and a youth music ensemble of Arabs and Jews played interludes with traditional music at the official inauguration of the center, housed in a Jewish building Arabic music residential area of Lod.
The center houses a magnificent 1,700-year-old mosaic, uncovered during road works at the Lod site in 1996, and has been viewed by millions in some of the world’s most prestigious museums, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Cini Gallery in Venice, Italy.
Israel Antiquities Authority staff were still brushing and retouching portions of the well-preserved Roman-era mosaic as guests arrived to welcome it home.
The center will open to the public later this summer, with free entry for Lod residents. In addition to viewing the mosaic, visitors can work on their own mosaic and take part in a multimedia quiz.
dr Amir Gorzalczany, head of excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority, told JNS that the largest mosaic, measuring 57 feet long and 30 feet wide, was part of the interior of a mansion “that clearly belonged to a very, very wealthy person.” It was discovered about a meter underground, which is responsible for its well-preserved condition.
Gorzalczany pointed out that the colorful surfaces depicting fruits, mammals, birds, fish, plants and sailing ships reflect the North African influence. A smaller mosaic has been uncovered (and is also on display), which Gorzalczany says depicts symbols associated with Western design and commonly found in ancient churches in Western Europe and England. “The Romans had a vast empire that spanned North Africa and Europe,” he said.
Researchers have not determined whether the people living in the mansions were Gentiles, Christians, or Jews.
Later excavations in 2014 and 2018 found an adjacent mosaic floor, which Gorzalczany says belonged to a stately reception room surrounded by columns.
Roman times may have been the heyday of wealth for Lod, or Lydda as it was known. However, since the establishment of the State of Israel, the city has suffered from poverty and an often troubled mix of Jewish and Arab residents.
Due to a lack of funds, plans to preserve and develop the mosaic site for the exhibition were shelved in the late 1990s and the mosaic re-covered.
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In 2008, Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation donated funds and worked with the IAA and the City of Lod to create the new interactive center and preserve and display the mosaics in their original home.
White, 84, is a prominent New York-based philanthropist and art collector. Along with her late husband, Leon Levy, White has long supported archaeological projects around the world and is President of the American Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
White’s son-in-law Lakshman Achuthan told JNS that alongside her passion for archeology, White loves stories and “some of the best stories are the old ones”. “The mosaics have pictures of stories,” he noted. For White, the traveling mosaic that reached so many viewers around the world was a way to raise awareness and unite people, Achuthan said.
White told the crowd: “From the moment Leon and I saw this historical mosaic, we knew how important it was to the city of Lod and the world and what it would do to make Lod a cultural hub. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the restoration of the mosaic and the creation of this museum.”
“To think that this was done almost two thousand years ago! I can only imagine what the men who created it would think if they knew how many places around the world it was sold,” she added.
Lod Mayor Yair Revivo told those present that the opening of the Mosaic Center “will help us uncover our glorious past,” adding, “Our city is a great mosaic of cultures.”
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