During Elul, the last month on the Jewish calendar, we are encouraged to engage in self-examination in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s the time of year when many Jews take a few moments to engage in introspection, and perhaps make decisions about how we want to improve ourselves.
It’s a time for asking for forgiveness from others so that we can start the upcoming year with a clean slate. Even if you don’t consider yourself religious, we can all benefit from taking some time to ponder whether we are truly living our best lives.
In Israel, Elul is a time of year when both religious and secular Jews, along with those who fall somewhere in between, feel the magic and connection among all the different communities. To that end, in recent years there has been an explosion of slihot (penitential poems and prayers) tours, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem and of Safed.
In fact, it can be said that slihot tours are the hottest trend leading up to the High Holy Days, since they offer participants an opportunity to deepen their understanding of Jewish customs and absorb some of the spiritual atmosphere that envelops the streets and alleys of Israeli cities with large religious communities. Most people would agree that Jerusalem is one of the most spiritual places to visit this time of year.
Slihot tours have become so popular because they provide empowering and spiritual experiences. Throughout the month of September, there will be many slihot tours in Jerusalem, with a few that stand out as extra special.
One new option is home hospitality offered by 12 women. The program focuses on the topics of forgiveness, Elul, and the Tishrei holidays. For example, Efrat Halamish will be leading a tour of the City of David, while Dafna Kandel will conduct a tour through the Muslim Quarter.
In Malha, Janet Yehudian will lead a Persian-themed tour, while Naomi Amadi hosts a reflection workshop. In Nahlaot, Hannah Bat Yael will lead an evening of women’s singing, Delilah Shemesh will lead a specialized guided tour, and Mama Rachel will lead a Jerusalem Sephardi-Ladino evening.
Although most of the slihot tours take place in Jerusalem and Safed, this year visitors can join a poetic journey in Haifa. During the tour, participants will have panoramic views of the Carmel Mountain, the Mediterranean Sea, the Stella Maris Monastery, and the Cave of Elijah. The tour will be led by Tzuriel Assaf, a poet and artist who lives in the Galilee. It will include a unique writing exercise to help participants become more spiritual in the New Year. Date: September 20, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Price: NIS 80Starting point: Stella Maris Monastery, 100 Stella Maris Street, HaifaEnd point: Cave of Elijah, Allenby Road, HaifaDetails: 055-318-3581; www.poetryplace.org/english/
2. Beit She’arim
If you’d like to join a slihot tour out in nature, I recommend a special tour in Beit She’arim National Park. During the tour, you will learn about the unique history of the city of Beit She’arim, which dates back to the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods.
This family-friendly tour will include a discussion of questions such as “What is the nature of forgiveness?” and “Who is responsible for doing the forgiving?” It will explore what Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said about sins of the body and sins of the soul; why his students sinned against each other; and how the concept of forgiveness is connected to the idea of blood vengeance.
Dates: September 14 & 21, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.Price: NIS 55Details: eventbuzz.co.il/lp/event/selichot
3. Ascent of Safed
Ascent of Safed is running musical slihot tours that are aimed at helping us prepare ourselves spiritually for the High Holy Days. The evening tours will take place every Wednesday in September at 8 p.m. and are suitable for all ages. They will start at the Ascent Center in Safed, then continue with a visit to the Citadel Garden located at the highest spot in the city, and end with a glimpse into an ancient cave.
At the beginning of the tour, participants will receive kerosene lamps to illuminate the night skies. During the tour, they will hear stories about the uniqueness of the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, hear a variety of different prayer styles, and enjoy authentic musical slihot performances out in nature.
Every Thursday in September, there will be slihot tours that include a Galilean Melody performance, during which performers will sing traditional slihot liturgical prayers. The performance will take place in a 500-year-old cave that has its own incredible historical story.
Additionally, every Friday, there will be a Story in the Alleyways tour that starts at the Ascent Center, leads participants through the streets and alleyways of the ancient city of Safed, and visits important historical heritage sites.
Details: 077-804-0574; www.ascent.co.il/slichot
4. Karaite Heritage Center, Jerusalem
One of the most unique slihot events taking place in Jerusalem this month is a tour and meal that will take place at the Karaite Heritage Center in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The Karaite Heritage Center has three underground levels that are built around the oldest synagogue that is still active, and is located on Karaites Street.
One of the traditions that the Karaites observe during the time leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the Ten Days of Forgiveness. During these days, they wake up at the break of dawn and sing prayers of lament and supplication to God. This tour offers visitors a glimpse into their unique customs, and culminates with a meal at a restaurant called Ta’amei Hamikra (Flavors of the Bible).
Price: From NIS 99 per person.Details: (02) 628-6688; www.heritage-center.org.il
5. Tower of David Museum Jerusalem
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem is offering a series of inspirational slihot tours. They will begin with a visit to the new permanent exhibition at the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum, which was built on an ancient fortress located near Jaffa Gate, the main entrance to the Old City.
During the tour, visitors can meander through the museum’s new galleries, view the archaeological excavations and the citadel, and ascend to the observation point overlooking the lights of the Old City homes. From there, they will stroll through the streets of the Jewish Quarter as the group makes its way to the Western Wall. At the end of the tour, participants can sing along with the musical liturgy of a traditional slihot service.
Dates: September 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, & 21, from 10 p.m. to midnight.Price: NIS 55Details: www.tod.org.il
Translated by Hannah Hochner.