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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.

Australian Med Corps

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.
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Islamic History Recorded

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Staff Spotlight: November

With the Nuba Inscription still fresh in our minds, this month’s Staff Spotlight lands on Peretz Reuven!

peretz_1Originally from Haifa, Peretz is our expert in the Islamic period pottery and artifacts. He originally got interested in the Islamic period while at Hebrew University. He began with Arabic and Islamic history, added in a bit of archaeology, and the rest is history. He has studied under some of the most widely published scholars, including Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, Rachel Milstein, and Hava Lazarus-Yafe. Now he works on many excavations and research projects across Jerusalem and Israel.

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Large Ophel Medallion

Peretz was working on a project with Dr. Eilat Mazar documenting all the walls of the Temple Mount, and researching and publishing the large ophel medallion when he met our director, Zachi Dvira. Zachi invited him to join our project, and now Peretz is researching all of the Early Islamic period pottery found by the Sifting Project. He is also planning to use his experience in researching architectural elements from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods to research the architectural elements found in our sifting.

The Early Islamic period assemblage from the Sifting Project is very rich in materials. We have a lot of ceramic vessels, many of which are glazed and elaborated. Though most of them are locally made, some were imported from Persia, Egypt, or parts of Europe. We can see that there was a lot of activity on the Temple Mount during that time period, but what is interesting is that many of the vessels are ordinary. For example, we have many cooking vessels and fragments of pipes. Peretz would not say that these vessels represent daily life, for example people coming and eating in an ordinary way, since the Temple Mount is a holy place. Rather, we are familiar with people coming to make celebrations on the Temple Mount as a part of Muslim fests and holidays. There were also people, such as guards, who stayed on the Temple Mount overnight, and our assemblage could represent their daily lives.

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Cut mother-of-pearl inlays which may be from the Dome of the Rock

Peretz does not have a favorite artifact among those that he is researching for the Sifting project because there are too many to choose from that are really interesting. Some artifacts are connected to the building of the Dome of the Rock or to the artists who made the mosaics adorning the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. For example, Peretz is excited by the large amount of mother of pearl inlay found by the project. Many of these inlays might come from the dismantling and discarding of the mosaics over the years.

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Gilded glass mosaic tesserae from the Early Islamic Period removed from the Dome of the Rock exterior walls during later renovations.

The buildings of the Temple Mount have mosaics inside and out. Some were dismantled during renovations while others were replaced because they were disintegrating or suffering from the elements. For example, all the outer surface of the Dome of the Rock was covered with delicate mosaics unlike the ceramic mosaics that we have today. In the 1500s, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, all the outer paneling of mosaics were taken off the Dome of the Rock and thrown away. Most likely, some of what we are finding today is from that period. Between dumping and the stories of people cutting off the mosaics and selling or collecting them, it is really nice that some of these artifacts have survived.

In addition to working with the Sifting Project, Peretz has just finished publishing his research on the Islamic period ceramics found in the Givati Parking Lot in Jerusalem and is now working on publishing his research on the Islamic material from the Western Wall tunnels and the Kotel. With Assaf Avraham, he just published his research on the Nuba Inscription. Peretz said that he has always been interested in the connection between Islam and Judaism. He and Assaf decided to do some research on the topic, and during that research Assaf found out about the interesting inscription in Nuba. They decided to do some additional research on the inscription and the results were definitely interesting. Check out the video they published on their finds.

The Israel Experience

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Staff Spotlight: October

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So our new news from the lab is that we have two interns! They will be with us for the next few months, so this month’s Staff Spotlight falls onto Hannah Ripps and Renata Roitman.

They are a part of the MASA program, Top Israel Interns. The five month program provides Hebrew classes for the first month, periodic trips to see the country, and connects the participants with internships in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. This year’s group had 10 people in Jerusalem and 16 interning in Tel Aviv.

According to our interns, the best part of the program is the internship (obviously) as well as the ability to really get to be a part of Israel. They have an incredible amount of independence and are housed in the center of Jerusalem with easy access to everything the city has to offer. They can even wake up in the morning and grab breakfast at the shuk (market). It is a truly immersive experience and is an amazing way to get to know the culture and the people of Israel.

Renata

Renata is from San Paolo, Brazil. She came to Israel because she wanted to experience living here and to live in a country with good quality of life. She chose to intern for the Sifting Project because we do “interesting and important work.” She said that in Brazil, people are not aware that the Jewish people were here in Israel for a long time before the creation of the country Israel. She thinks that our project has the ability to make people see that Jews were here before.

In Brazil, Renata studied journalism in university. In our lab, Renata is helping us work on PR and social media, and is focusing her efforts on our Spanish and Portuguese speaking donors and volunteers. Right now, she is working on a Portuguese translation of the archaeological history of the Temple Mount and Spanish translation of the interview with Zachi from Channel 2. I will post links ASAP. Renata said that she is learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes work of an NGO; the difficult parts of what we are doing like our quest for funding and creating educational content. She also has really enjoyed sifting in the field and seeing where the initial work happens.

Hannah

Hannah is from Pensacola, Florida. She chose to come to Israel because she loves this country, and for academic and career related reasons. It was an opportunity to get experience and see the world. She is interested in archaeology, Jewish history, and Jewish art and wants to become fluent in Hebrew. Clearly, Israel is a great place for all of that.

Hannah graduated with a degree in archaeology from Barnard University and Jewish Art History from the Jewish Theological Seminary as a part of a dual degree program. She wanted to intern at the Sifting Project as a way of getting her foot in the door to the archaeological community in Jerusalem and in Israel.

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tiny flask with faces

In the lab, Hannah is cataloguing and recording information about objects found in the sifting that have not yet been identified. The lab cannot continue the research process and statistical analysis of the site without the completion of the cataloguing of finds, and we are extremely grateful to Hannah for helping us tackle this huge task. Specifically, she is researching a tiny flask in a neoclassical style. It might be from Germany based on the facial hair and helmet of the man, but we are not yet sure what it was used for.

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Example of gadi material

She is also studying what we are calling the “gadi” material (based on one find with an ancient inscription of a ג and ד). It is thought that these artifacts might be fossils, though there is an internal debate about whether they were used as amulets or writing implements. Further research will hopefully clear that up. If you have information on either object, please let us know on our unidentified finds website: http://www.echad.info/uifinds/ .

img-20161026-wa0000For Hannah, the best part of being involved with the Sifting Project has been finding a Hasmonean coin while sifting. Though it isn’t cleaned yet and we can’t see what is on it (we are waiting for funding to clean the thousands of coins found in the sifting that have yet to be cleaned), we think that it is from the Hasmonean period because it is cut on one side like many from that period. She has also been getting a better understanding of archaeology in general, how research is conducted, and especially how the archaeological system in Israel is organized. She said, “if this is where I want to be for my career, I’m getting a good introduction to that.”

Thanks!

The girls agree that this program has been an amazing opportunity and that everyone they are meeting is friendly and welcoming. (I promise I didn’t force them to say that. Our staff really is just that amazing.) They are both also considering the possibility of making Aliyah and would like everyone to know that they are looking if you are hiring  😉 .

We at the Sifting Project are really grateful to our wonderful interns for all of their help and we hope that you have a fantastic rest of your program. Once part of the TMSP family, always a part of the TMSP family, so know that you will always have a place in Israel.

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