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History just got real in Providence. Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, founder and curator of the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y., visited the Renaissance Hotel last night with a van full of priceless, ancient artifacts in tow.

In front of a packed crowd, Deutsch wowed the audience with artifacts dating back to ancient days. He even let members of the audience hold them to demonstrate their uses and sizes. Most of the audience came from the Providence Community Kollel ­— an institute for the advanced study of Jewish texts — participating in a program called Jewish Unity Live.

Deutsch said physical connection to the artifacts is essential to understanding and connecting with the Torah. His motto is, "If you touch history, it touches you."

This is the guiding principle of both his life and the life of the museum he founded. As a child, "I drove my teachers crazy," he said. "I wanted to know what everything looked like and how everything worked."

His goal in finding these precious, ancient artifacts was not only to increase his understanding but also to collect them. It has been "my life's journey to bring to learning something that we can relate to," Deutsch said.

In his collection in the 3,000 square-foot Brooklyn museum, there are 15,000 artifacts, 1,200 of which are from as early as 1800 B.C. He added that a full tour of the museum would take over 37 hours. The entire collection is valued at 30 million dollars.

Deutsch's stop in Providence was part of his larger tour with the museum. He travels to Jewish schools and communities around the country to keep the history behind his ancient artifacts alive. He can only take a small number of his artifacts with him due to insurance costs.

During his presentation, Deutsch invited members of the audience to participate. As he presented several weapons of the ancient Roman world, he asked a young man to come to the stage with him and hold the sword and shield that were once held by a gladiator. These were used to make a replica for the movie "Gladiator."

He presented other artifacts that would have been used on the battlefield, including a Roman legionaire's whistle that still works today. The whistle was recently discovered in an ancient shipwreck at the bottom of the sea and was used to make replicas for the HBO television series "Rome."

"Everybody loves weapons," Deutsch said. "And I have every kind of weapon."

Deutsch also presented to his audience a pair of ancient handcuffs that had also been discovered in a sunken ship. A young boy was subsequently handcuffed and led through the audience, smiling as he walked. "This is the way they would take you into exile," Deutsch said, laughing at the boy's expression.

"The more you learn, the more you appreciate," Deutsch said. For Deutsch, learning and collecting has given him "a whole new understanding of the ancient world and the Torah that surrounds it."

This is not the first time that these artifacts were available for students on campus.  

"Students at Brown who participate in the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship take a trip to the actual museum in New York," Rabbi Lurie, director of the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship on campus, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.


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