In the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent restrictions, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation is preparing for visitors to the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av (Wednesday evening and Thursday of this week) when many people will come to mark the day that most symbolizes the Temple’s destruction by reading Megillat Eicha (Lamentations) and reciting kinot (elegies).
The prayers at the Western Wall Plaza will be in groups of 20 worshippers in every prayer area in the open plaza, in accordance with Health Ministry regulations. Consequently, the Western Wall Plaza currently has a capacity of up to 1,000 people simultaneously, and not the tens of thousands it can hold during a regular year.
On Wednesday, the eve of Tisha B’Av, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation will transmit a special broadcast from the Western Wall. The broadcast will begin with Maariv evening prayers, reading of Megillat Eicha (Lamentations), and the recitation of kinot (elegies) for those who cannot get to the Western Wall or to their local synagogues. The broadcast will be shown on the Western Wall website: www.thekotel.org.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, said: “These days in the shadow of social distancing and a great economic crisis obligate us all to increase “ahavat chinim” – baseless love, mutual responsibility, and our connection with Jewish heritage and tradition”.
Due to the expected crowds for Mincha and Maariv prayers before the end of the fast, and the inability to have so many people at the plaza simultaneously, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation in cooperation with the Israel Police decided to restrict the number of people who can enter the plaza. Therefore, it is recommended to come before those prayer services, or an hour or two after the end of the fast.
At the end of the fast, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation will distribute a bottle of drink and a pre-packaged personal baked good for those breaking their fast at the Western Wall Plaza.
Emergency service personnel will be positioned at the Western Wall Plaza all day to help anyone needing assistance. The Jerusalem Police will secure the crowds at the Western Wall Plaza and on the routes leading to it, noting that all the roads will be protected and the public will be able to reach the Western Wall Plaza safely. It is recommended to avoid arriving at the Western Wall with private cars and to take public transportation to the Old City instead.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation requests that the public abide by regulations and maintain the required social distancing of 2 meters in and out of the entrances to the Western Wall in order to safeguard the public’s health.
Sharon E. Bershadsky, Director of the Israel Government Tourist Office UK said: “Despite Israel not currently being in a position to accept tourists due to Covid-19, it is important that we are able to experience such significant days in the Jewish calendar together, albeit virtually. Throughout the course of the day, people in the UK can join the live broadcast directly from the Western Wall to experience the prayers together with those in Israel. The live stream is just one of the numerous initiatives that has been undertaken by Israel to ensure the country feels open to those around the world, even when entry to the country is limited.”