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A Baby, a Cradle, and a Torah that survived the Holocaust

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People are the most valuable finds.

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Australian Army Medical Corps Badge WWI

Although the Temple Mount Sifting Project focuses on ancient finds, many of the finds we retrieve are also from the modern era and we are studying them as well. This includes artifacts from World Wars I and II. But we always say that the most important finds are the people who volunteer to sift with us, and the staff with their special personalities and personal stories. On the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom HaShoah, we would like to share with you the personal story of the project director Dr. Gabriel Barkay who was born in the Budapest ghetto a year before the end of the war, and a unique Torah scroll which was kept in his cradle.

I was born in 1944 on the same day my mother entered the ghetto, and she had two precious things: the newborn baby and the Torah scroll that was kept with the family. She dragged a large cart with all the things she could carry, and she gave birth to me. There had been horses used to tow the wagons, but because of the starvation in the community, they were all eaten in the weeks before, so there was neither food nor horses. My mother’s grandfather, Reb David Weiss, lived in a family home where several members of his family lived. He was a father of five children, four sons and a daughter who was my grandmother.

He had a private synagogue, and the Torah scroll was there in the synagogue. This Torah scroll was probably written in the 19th century in Romania. From Budapest, the Nazis hardly took Jews to the extermination camps. They planned to keep them hostage for the end of the war, though at the end of the war there were death marches from Budapest to Austria. Most of the people were killed on the way, and others went to concentration camps in Austria. Some died and some remained alive. But my family were probably forgotten in the back.

In November 1944, the Nazis took out all the inhabitants of the ghetto, including me, and took us to the train station, apparently to go to Poland. I do not know exactly what happened. Apparently, the train tracks were bombed and we were taken back to the ghetto and I was left behind. That is how I was saved, and also the Torah scroll that was hidden in my cradle.

After the war we went to Israel, I and the Torah scroll. In 2006 I was invited to a series of lectures in Canada. I met my mother’s cousin, who was then 91, but has since passed away. I told him that his grandfather’s Torah scroll was in my possession. He said, “Wait a minute,” and went into the other room and brought the curtain of the ארון קודש (holy ark) where the Torah scroll had been kept and gave it to me. This curtain was made around 1900. Hannah, wife of Reb David Weiss, embroidered it for his birthday. It is silver threads on velvet. The Torah was once used in my Bar Mitzvah in 1957. Afterward, we discovered that the Torah had mistakes and was invalid, so I made sure that it was fixed. The Torah underwent many hardships, was revised a few years ago, and then was re-inserted into my synagogue in East Talpiot in Jerusalem.  -Dr. Gabriel Barkay

gaby1Dr. Gabriel Barkay (73), the Jerusalem Prize laureate of archaeology, is considered by many to be the greatest expert on the archaeology of Jerusalem. He has excavated dozens of sites, and is known for his discovery of important silver scrolls from the First Temple period. As the blessing on the scrolls appear in the Torah, this is the oldest biblical text ever discovered. Barkay has taught for many years at Tel Aviv University, Bar Ilan University, and other institutions. He is a member of the Israel Antiquities Authority Advisory Council, and is an editor or consultant for several periodicals.

Photo credit for the photographs from the ceremony bringing the Torah to the synagogue goes to Barry A. Kaplan.

How Did We Get Here?

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Staff Spotlight for February: Zachi Dvira

img_3307How does a computer programmer stumble into directing a hot-topic salvage archaeology project? This is the story of our Director, Zachi Dvira.

After a short hiatus during our crowdfunding campaign, our Staff Spotlight is back on and this month, it falls on Zachi. Many people have read interviews and articles about Dr. Gaby Barkay, but what do you know about the student turned director of our project?

Zachi grew up in Herzliya and only really got started in archaeology at age 25. From age 9, he was programming computers. After the army, he went into computer graphics and animation and even started his own business. One Sukkot, he left his office for eight days, and the heat from the sun coming through the windows destroyed all of his hard drives. All of his files and big projects were lost.

Zachi felt like he needed a change. He had just spent time traveling in the Caribbean and South America and became more interested in archaeology. He was intrigued by St. Augustine in Columbia and its unique culture. He was a city boy, but when he got back to Israel, he started traveling within Israel and visiting the archaeological and historical sites here. He was amazed at the number of things that he didn’t know and that he hadn’t done in Israel. Zachi’s late grandmother also fanned the spark of interest in archaeology and would talk to Zachi about excavations and discoveries.

Zachi had been interested in the Bible since he was a teenager and he had been researching the Torah text and its relation to modern Judaism. After the loss of his files, Zachi went back to programming, but he also wanted to learn archaeology on the side because of his sincere interest in the subject. He also wanted to gain the tools he needed to research more about the Bible and the source of Judaism. Zachi enrolled at Bar Ilan University, and as he learned more and more, he felt like he really began to better understand the text of the Bible and the context in which it was written.

So how did the Sifting Project start?

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Illicit bulldozing in 1999

Zachi was interested in the Temple Mount and he was doing a seminar with Dr. Gaby Barkay about Jerusalem. He had to write a paper about Jerusalem in the 10th Century BCE. At that time, there was a claim that the Temple Mount was not a part of Jerusalem in the 10th century and that it was only added later on.

Even in 1998, there had been reports of trucks leaving the Temple Mount with earth, and when the large Awaqf excavation took place in 1999, someone who had followed the trucks told Zachi where to find the dirt that they had dumped. Zachi had the idea that he could maybe find something from the 10th century BCE and give evidence that the Temple Mount was a part of Jerusalem at that time. He had no idea that it would become a whole project.

With other friends and archaeology students, Zachi surveyed some of the earth removed from the Temple Mount, but it was professors like Dr. Barkay that were able to date and identified the artifacts and who realized that they were dealing with something immensely important.

Zachi and Gaby decided to establish an official project for sifting this debris and the Temple Mount Sifting Project was established in 2004. Zachi was in the middle of his MA studies. I asked him what his dreams are for the project, and he said that because this project has exceeded all hopes and expectations, it is difficult to talk about dreams. The dream of finding a few inscriptions or seals, well we found them. In any excavation you want to uncover more finds that shed a lot of light on history, and with our project, even just the statistics of the finds that we have can lead to new understandings.

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Data-mining TMSP data

Of all things, Zachi is very interested in the implementation of advanced quantitative analysis techniques in archaeology. This is what his MA thesis was about. He researched automatic typology methods and wrote about how to use data mining for analyzing archaeological databases to reveal patterns in the data, which consequently raise new research questions.

While Zachi has found a number of nice coins and some inscriptions for the project, the research and the library is more interesting for him. Like all of us, there are so many things that Zachi would like to research and to delve into, but unfortunately there just aren’t enough hours in the day. This is the never-ending problem of an archaeologist. You learn one thing that leads you into a whole new category of topics you didn’t even know you were interested in, which leads you to something else, and the process of learning and striving to know more and better understand is a lifelong pursuit.

This is what led Zachi to the British Mandate archives where he discovered a whole list of remnants and features on the Temple Mount that he was surprised had not been published. They help fill in the picture of the history of the Temple Mount and how it has been used over time. He wrote a whole article about this and we are now waiting for it to be expanded upon and translated into English. This is also a part of his PhD thesis that he has just started.

Basically, we are very lucky to have Zachi, his experience, and his passion for learning and truth leading our TMSP team. This is just a small glimpse into the man, but hopefully it gives you a little bit of insight into the quiet powerhouse behind our project.

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Discussing stone weights in the lab

Coming to New York!

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Start spreading the news. We’re coming! We want to be a part of it, New York, New York!

Zachi Dvira will be going to New York on a speaking tour from April 20th through April 30th. He will be visiting various Jewish organizations in and around Manhattan, and may even be making his way to New Jersey for a day. He will be speaking about the counter evidence to the Temple Denial Movement, the archaeological evidence from the Sifting Project, and other research and artifacts from other excavations in Jerusalem that provide evidence of the First and Second Temple.

These lectures are a fun way to help you learn the facts so that you can counter the Temple Denial Movement. Zachi has been studying the history of the Temple Mount for over 18 years. As well as being one of the founders of the Sifting Project, he has also had access to some unpublished research in archives from the British Mandate Period that shed a lot of light on the history of the Temple Mount.

If you are interested in attending one of these lectures, let us know! Email development@tmsifting.org and we will send you the specific times and places so that you can choose the one that works best with your schedule.

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We are also interested in perhaps doing a gala event; if not this trip, then perhaps the next. If you or your organization would like to host such an event, let us know so that we can start planning! It would be a great way to raise awareness about the project and the history of the Temple Mount as well as help us raise funds to publish our research.

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