Monday, January 27, 2020 -
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Awe & inspiration at midnight selichot at the Kotel

By Ilanit Chernick

The sound of the shofar was loud and strong. Every few moments a man dressed in white, wearing a Breslov kippah, blew into the ram’s horn as people filed through the entrances of the Western Wall.

In the days leading to Rosh Hashanah and through the High Holy Days, selichot — communal prayers for divine forgiveness — are recited daily. The catch: The prayers begin at midnight, their words and laments carrying through until 2 a.m.

Despite the late hour, thousands upon thousands of people from all over Israel flocked to the Western Wall to take part in this phenomenon.

From Ethiopian Jews to secular Jews to chasidim, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Yemenite Jews — it was a sea of diversity with some in traditional ethnic dress, others wearing black pants, white shirts, black hats, shtreimels and still others in jeans and T-shirts.

As thousands gathered on Sept. 12, there was a hustle of activity. On one side of the plaza a large group of women made challah together. They mixed ingredients and kneading the dough while they prayed for the safety of Israel, for healing, a good year, success and blessings.

A group of religious Ethiopian Jews, led by a man dressed in a long white garment with a turban on his head, sang laments and the group answered loudly in a chorus of sad song, so beautiful it touched a chord within. A man stood behind him — also dressed in a white garment — holding a beaded green umbrella, sheltering the leader.

Middle Eastern drums could be heard banging in the distance as the groups moved closer and closer toward the Western Wall plaza. The energy across the plaza was electric, and yet there was still a sense of foreboding, which spread far and wide across the crowds.

As midnight dawned, the thousands began to quieten down. And then it began, as if the prayer leader were crying before G-d, begging for mercy — the loud, quivering voice wailed as he said each word of the selichot prayers.

In a chilling chorus, thousands of voices responded. This continued for hours and not once did the cantor lose his emotion. Not once did the crowd falter as it answered. Some drew out cell phones, photographing and videoing the rare event and the togetherness of the nation of Israel.

Tears shined on many faces as the prayers drew to a close and the sound of several shofars bellowed once more, marking an end to the spiritual endeavor.

Next year in Jerusalem!


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