On a sparkling day last spring, the cornerstone was laid for a new facility at Tel Aviv University, to be known as the Jacob M. Alkow Building for Archaeology. The building, which will house lecture halls and space for the storage, conservation and display of archaeological artifacts, was made possible by a $6 million gift from Jacob Alkow, an American businessman who died in 1998 at the age of 96.
Alkow’s extraordinary bequest also established the university’s Alkow Chairs for the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages and for the History of the Jews in the Ancient World. The first occupants of these chairs are, respectively, professors Israel Finkelstein and Bezalel Bar-Kochba. At the dedication ceremony, Finkelstein delivered a cautionary peroration, “Biblical Archaeology: Is Its Association with the Bible a Blessing or an Obstacle?”.
Jacob Alkow’s daughter, Hedva Berg, spoke of her father’s life-long interest in archaeology. She recalled that as a young Lithuanian immigrant peddler in New York City, Jacob would take time off to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “This was in a way the first archaeological expedition of his life,” she noted.
In addition to a successful business career, Alkow studied in the rabbinical program at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary and served as a Bible consultant for filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille. He spent the last 30 years of his life in Israel, pursuing his fascination with archaeology by becoming an active member of the Friends of the Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology.