Photo Credit: Elron Zabatani/TPS
The Birkat Kohanin held in capsules at the Western Wall (Kotel). March 29, 2021

The Birkat Kohanim, the traditional priestly blessing recited during the morning prayers of Passover at the Kotel Plaza, was held twice over the Passover holiday to facilitate the tens of thousands of worshippers who came for the special event amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The special event, which is usually held only once on Passover and once on Sukkot, was held on Monday and Tuesday this Passover.

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As per Health Ministry guidelines and in coordination with the Police, the public arriving from around Israel was allowed to come to the Plaza only, and not overflow beyond, as usually the case. Groups prayed in separate capsules divided by screens.

To enable the many people to come to the Birkat Kohanim event while avoiding crowding, the event was divided into two separate events on consecutive days.

Many thousands of worshippers arrived at the Kotel excitedly on both days, as the retreat of the virus was felt across the country

The three-verse blessing is recited during a celebratory prayer session during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot, normally in the presence of many thousands of people.

Last Passover, amid a spike in COVID-19 infections, the event was limited to a group of only 10 Kohanim due to the Coronavirus restrictions.

At the time, all prayer gatherings were banned in Israel to stem the spread of the virus.

The Birkat Kohanim on the previous Sukkot was held in a very limited fashion and was not opened to the public.

Similarly, Israelis flocked to the nature reserves, parks and amusement attractions across the country, an apparent display of recovery after a year of dealing with the virus and three long lockdowns.

The country became on large traffic jam, and hotels reported full occupancy.

The improvement in Israel’s situation vis-à-vis the Coronavirus is attributed to its success to rapidly vaccinate its population.

Over 5, 227,000 Israelis have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, some 56% of the population, and over 4.7 million Israelis – about 51% – have received the second dose.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.