I vividly remember being a new immigrant to Jerusalem 15 years ago and how I felt as the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) were approaching. I had no idea where to go to recite slihot (the seasonal penitential prayers) or where to pray during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I ended up davening at the Katamon Shtiblach and finishing up Yom Kippur at the Western Wall.The month of Elul and the High Holy Days are an intense time in the lives of many Jews when we reflect on our connection to our faith and tradition. So finding the right community and the right people to pray with is crucial to putting us into the right frame of mind.One of the beauties of living in Israel is how Judaism is very much part of daily life, particularly at this time of year. For instance, I can turn on the radio and hear Odelia Berlin or Natan Goshen singing my favorite prayers. I never heard these types of songs on the BBC!I love this time of year. Living in Jerusalem, one really experiences the richness of Jewish life and culture. There are so many places to pray – traditional, hassidic and non-Orthodox. It really depends on what you are looking for and what touches your soul. This overview should help you decide how to make the most of what the Golden City has to offer.
Slihot Sephardim started saying slihot at the beginning of Elul. Ashkenazim will begin after this Shabbat, on the night of September 21.Most Ashkenazi and Sephardi synagogues say slihot either late in the evening or before the morning Shacharit prayers. If you’re stuck, you will find a minyan at the Katamon Shtiblach on Hakhish St., where you’re certain to find a minyan either inside or in the courtyard outside.The ideal time to say slihot is between midnight and the early hours of morning, although Rabbi Moshe Feinstein famously ruled that they can be said earlier in the evening if need be.The first night of slihot – this Saturday night for Ashkenazim – is the big night: The Great Synagogue at 56 King George Ave. always has a beautiful service with a choir; Yitzchak Meir will be performing at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel at midnight; the Solomon Brothers will be in Yemin Moshe at the Beit Yisrael Synagogue at 10 p.m.; and the Emek Learning Center (ELC) at 64 Emek Refaim St. will host a special musical kumsitz at 11:15 p.m.In other communities like the Ramban Synagogue on Amatzia St., Kehilat Nitzanim on Asher St. in Baka, and Shir Hadash on Emek Refaim, the rabbi will give a special drasha (speech) which will be followed by slihot.Laya and Alan Lurie who made aliyah from Sydney, Australia, 20 years ago said they pray at Shir Hadash. “The atmosphere and vibe is really special, and Rabbi Pear speaks well. He always has a relevant message. ”The Old City is a popular place to say slihot. The four Sephardi synagogues by the car park, and the Ramban and Hurva synagogues all have services either in the evening or early morning. The Western Wall has slihot every night. If you are going to be at the Kotel, especially on the evening before Yom Kippur, be prepared – you will be joined by thousands of others. There are also “slihot tours” around the Old City’s Jewish Quarter that teach the history of slihot.Some women prefer women-only slihot services. Midreshet Lindenbaum at 51 Leib Yafe St. is a popular venue. If you feel like driving out to Gush Etzion, the Migdal Oz seminary has a women’s slihot service every night with a speaker beforehand. If you are looking for slihot earlier in the evening, several shuls – Yakar at 10 Halamed-Hey St., Kehilat Nitzanim and the top floor of the Katamon Shtiblach – start around 10 p.m. They also use an abridged version of slihot designed to make it easier to focus.Gedaliah Gurfein, who moved to Israel 45 years ago, says of slihot on the top floor of the Katamon Shtiblach. “I really like the shorter text they use and the modern Israeli tunes. It makes the experience so pleasant and meaningful. I love the Shtiebel. You have Sephardim, Ashkenazim, black kippot and knitted ones all davening together. That is special in Israel. We also have great hazzanim who do the traditional tunes which I love.”The Nahlaot and Shaarei Hessed neighborhoods have small synagogues where you can find Sephardi and Moroccan-style slihot. If you are looking for more Carlebach-style slihot, you can find them in Nahlaot at Ohavei Tzion on 23 Shilo St., the Machtarot shul on Moshiach Bruchov St., Kol Rina on Beersheba St. and Korazim off Ussishkin St. All are trendy places to go. In Kiryat Moshe, the Carlebach shul on Ben Tzion St. is popular.Hassidic options are also available. In Katamon, the Erloy Shul on Yotam near Rachel Imenu St. welcomes locals. And in Shaarei Hessed, the Kahal Hassidim and Breslov shuls on Hagra St. feature more hassidic-style slihot services.The Jerusalem Theater will be hosting a slihot event featuring an orchestra with Shay Sabri and Guy Zuaretz at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 22. On October 3, there will be two slihot concerts: Jacky Levy will be hosting popular singers at Sultan’s Pool at 9 p.m., and Shlomo Katz will be performing at the First Station at 8 p.m.If you’re looking for a progressive, non-Orthodox slihot option, then Jerusalem is a virtual marketplace. Kehilat Kol HaNeshama at 1 Asher St. in Baka will hold slihot services between 7 p.m.-10 p.m. and hold regular services over the High Holy Days. The Conservative Yeshiva at 8 Agron St. will hold slihot services this coming Saturday night, as will Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in East Talpiot at 30 Adam St. Kehillat Shira Hadasha at 12 Emek Refaim St. will join the egalitarian minyan of Baka and hold slihot services beginning Saturday night. You will also find regular services there throughout the High Holy Days.DURING slihot, immigrants really experience the uniqueness of living in the Holy City with this broad range of services to choose from. Here are some responses from olim I spoke with.Cheryl Liberman, who made aliyah from Brooklyn, said, “I love slihot in Jerusalem because of the singing and hazanut [cantorial singing]. I enjoyed going to Ohel Nechama to hear Yitzchak Meir.”Ester Silver, also from Brooklyn, said she tries to go to the Western Wall for slihot, especially on the evening before Yom Kippur. “It’s amazing being with thousands of other Jews in unison singing and crying to God. I love that sense of togetherness and unity. I just love that feeling of connection with the Jewish people at this time of year.”Avi Narrow-Tilonsky from New York said that when he was single he used to enjoy going to the Western Wall, or going to the Ramban Synagogue to hear Rabbi Benny Lau speak on the first night of slihot. Now married and a parent, he enjoys a variety of early-morning services he can choose from.David Frohman from Brooklyn said he also enjoys early-morning slihot. “I go to slihot before davening at the Katamon Shtiblach. The first minyan starts slihot at 5:30 a.m. so it’s pretty much a crazy two-and-a-half weeks or so,” he said. “I know a lot of people like to go to slihot around 10 p.m... [but] where I grew up, the tradition was it’s best to do it midnight or in the morning because of kabbalistic reasons. As I’m a morning person, that was always the preferable option.“Overall slihot is very similar to the US. The key thing is to make sure you have the right nusach [version of prayer] as there’s a bunch of versions that only seem to apply this time of year.”
High Holy Day prayersThere is a huge variety of shuls and communities where one can pray during the Yamim Noraim. Be aware, though, that most start their prayers relatively early – usually at around 8 a.m. Some will expect you to pay for a seat. Make sure to check beforehand.Lior Ziv, originally from Belgium, enjoys going to special minyanim over the High Holy Days: “I go to the Great Synagogue for Kol Nidrei and then usually Steinsaltz [Synagogue] during the day.”Ranon Katzoff who moved to Israel 48 years ago from New York says he loves going to the Great Synagogue on the first night of slihot. “Each year when I go to the Great Synagogue, I am reminded of my childhood when my father took me across Chicago to hear the great hazzanim. I need that sense of occasion I grew up with on the first night of slihot.”Rabbi Yisrael Cohn prefers to go with his family to their regular shul in Katamon. “We go to Harel, as we do through the year. It’s important for our children to daven in a shul which feels familiar.”Singles who may not actually be members of one shul often like going to the Nafka Minah minyan in the Bnei Akiva Bayit near Nayot Park off Herzog St. They have a kiddush (refreshments) before Musaf (the “second half” of holiday morning prayers) to help people relax and socialize. Other popular places for Jerusalem’s singles to pray are the downstairs minyan at the Nitzanim Shul, the ELC and Shir Hadash.The Eretz Hemdah Yeshiva at 2 Brurya St. in Katamon is popular with retired immigrants, and the ELC attracts the more religious or “yeshivish” crowd.The Steinsaltz minyan on Kovshei Katamon St. in Katamon, the “Raz” minyan on Ussishkin St. in Rehavia, and the Maayanot minyan on Narkis St. in Sha’arei Hessed are popular with those looking for a longer, more Carlebach-style of davening.Chabad, with its warm and friendly atmosphere, have services in Baka, Rehavia and Katamon throughout the High Holy Days and during slihot season.For early risers, the Ramban, Nitzanim and Katamon synagogues feature vatikin, or sunrise, services.If you don’t mind the heat and sun, which can still be somewhat daunting during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Western Wall is a special place to pray. I like to daven Neilah there, the closing prayer of Yom Kippur, and reciting Havdalah with thousands of others when the fast has ended is particularly meaningful.Elissa Krycer, who made aliyah from Australia, likes Nitzanim’s downstairs minyan. “I’ve been at Nitzanim for a couple of years now and like the enthusiasm and dedication of the attendees. The chatter levels are low and the spirit is high.“Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Israel tend to feel different in that the whole country pretty much shifts modes and the festive atmosphere can be felt well beyond the shul premises. It’s a special time of the year here, no doubt about that!“As for the davening, I loved the hazanut in my shul in Australia and it took me a great deal of time to adjust to some of the tunes after I moved, but I’d say I’ve finally adjusted and if I was to go back for a visit over High Holidays, I’d likely miss the services I experience here in Israel.”
Other optionsAdditional slihot services this coming Saturday night will take place at the following locations: • HaNasi Synagogue at 24 Ussishkin St. in Rechavia will hold a special musical service beginning at 12:10 a.m. • The OU Israel Center on 22 Keren Hayesod St. will feature a speaker at 9:30 p.m. followed by slihot at 10:30 p.m. • The Yad Tamar synagogue on the corner of Ha-Ari and Azza streets will hold a slihot service at 12.30 a.m.• Ohel Aaron at 29 Harlap St. will hold services at 11p.m. • Ohel Rivka at 15 Harlap St. will begin services at 12:30 a.m. So whether you decide to opt for more garden-variety slihot and prayer or go for something different, make sure to also enjoy the unique atmosphere here in Jerusalem and appreciate how in Israel, celebrating our festivals is part of our way of life and culture.