Prior to the coronavirus pandemic reaching Israel in early March and leading to the Israeli border closure as well as government orders calling for social distancing, the new sifting site experienced amazing progress. We received many bookings for the coming months including groups from Israel and abroad. However, due to the crisis, the Israeli government closed the country’s borders to tourists and called on its citizens to remain at home and refrain from all inessential social contact. As a result, all reservations have been cancelled, and the sifting site has been virtually empty for the past two weeks. We are currently assessing the situation on a daily basis so as to determine a means of coping with this crisis. If this situation continues, we will have no choice but to again shut down the sifting operation.
Following the public panic concerning the virus and the government’s new “stay-home” instruction, it would have been natural to have chosen to halt the sifting immediately and send all employees for leave without payment. However, at this stage we chose differently. We believe it is crucial to keep the sifting running even if only at our lowest capacity. Only by having a contingency plan which includes keeping our operation running during this time of crisis will we be able to bounce back strong once the crisis it is over.
As of now, the sifting is continuing with a limited number of staff members and under new precautionary work regulations to prevent infection. We are also ensuring that all staff members are not commuting via public transportation and have arranged for them to travel by taxi instead.
Once this crisis begins to resolve itself, we hope to accommodate small groups and families with no more than 10 participants at a time, while maintaining adequate interpersonal space.
This past Shabbat the Jewish world read the weekly Torah portion which included the commandment for the donation of the half shekel of silver by every individual, both to serve as a means to calculate the number of the Israelites, and to collect funds towards the upkeep of the Tabernacle in the wilderness(Exodus 30). This commandment inspired donations for the upkeep of the Temple in later generations as well, and is associated in the Bible with preventing epidemics that may be caused by directly counting the children of Israel (Exodus 30: 12; II Samuel 24). Many commentators have attempted to explain the Biblical reservation regarding the direct counting of the people of Israel. One explanation is that the act of simply counting people suggests that the children of Israel are a collection of individuals rather than a single organic unit. The half shekel donation expresses the idea that no single individual is complete on his own, that only when we are all connected to each other are we whole. The current pandemic gripping the world expresses this idea very saliently by making us realize that all humanity is interconnected. What happens in China directly affects the other side of the globe. Perhaps this crisis will help us realize how the entire world depends upon one another and how every human being makes a difference.
How Can You Make a Difference? The present crisis threatens the continued existence of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The abrupt halt of visitors and volunteers coupled with the growing global financial upheaval means that funding is drying up, and we are facing major difficulties in continuing the sifting operation as well as the research and publication of the important finds we have gathered so far.
For this reason we will need all the help and support that we can get, including donations from our supporters, and visitors to our site as soon as the crisis is over.