Prayer in the twilight hours

If you’ve never been on a nighttime ‘Slihot’ tour in Jerusalem, you’re not really prepared for Yom Kippur.

The Hurva Synagogue, in the main square of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, is the focal point of a historical slihot tour. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The Hurva Synagogue, in the main square of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, is the focal point of a historical slihot tour.
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Jerusalem is a city of many layers. Containing both the holy and the mundane, it possesses incredible historical significance yet is also quite modern – making it a very intriguing place.
Its residents are a heterogeneous medley of religious and secular; though they don’t necessarily know a lot about each other, they continue living side by side without too much drama.
In preparation for the upcoming High Holy Days, which bring with them a sense of purity, multitudes of Israelis from all over the country put their routine activities aside for an evening and descend upon the capital to experience a little Yiddishkeit.
The trendiest way to get into the Jewish New Year spirit is to participate in a nightly slihot tour – named for the special prayers recited in the weeks preceding Yom Kippur – that culminates in massive group prayer at the Western Wall.
If you haven’t taken part in such an excursion, I highly recommend doing so. I cannot describe the feeling I had while walking through the streets of Jerusalem, together with other religious and secular Jews. The amazing colors, the bustle of visitors and locals alike, will stay in my mind for the rest of Elul and Tishrei, up until we usher in the holidays.
The following is a list of my recommendations for slihot tours taking place between now and Yom Kippur.
Ten Days of Repentance
If you’re curious about how the traditional Jewish world prepares for Yom Kippur, then you should join a tour of Mahaneh Yehuda, Nahlaot, Geula and Zichron Moshe, organized by a tour company called Yalla Basta, which specializes in open-air markets. This slihot outing will be full of mystery, forgiveness and Jewish mysticism, taking place on October 1, smack in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance leading up to the Day of Atonement. Participants will get a glimpse of the kaparot market, based on the Jewish folk custom of swinging a chicken over your head, during which your sins are supposedly transferred to the chicken (some people settle for giving charity instead).
The tour will also pass a commercial center in a haredi neighborhood where people will be preparing for the holiday.
A main point of interest is a willow tree where residents pick arava branches, to make up part of the lulav they will use on Succot.
Date: Wednesday, October 1.
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Length: 2.5 hours.
Cost: NIS 89.
For details: 050-522-2337
Ancient legends and slihot
As in past years, the public is invited to participate in a mystical and exciting journey that begins at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate and winds its way through the centuries in the Jewish Quarter. The guide will regale participants with amazing legends about the holiness that existed here in ancient times, including the stories of the washerwoman who prayed to King David for salvation and the shofar that waited for the Messiah. The tour will include a stop at the famous Hurva Synagogue, where guests will hear how the building was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times throughout history. Inside the synagogue, which is considered one of the most gorgeous in the world, visitors will experience a powerful prayer session. The tour will end with a view of the Western Wall.
Dates: Tuesday, September 23 and Sunday, September 28.
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Length: About 3.5 hours.
Cost: NIS 55. Pre-reservation necessary.
For details: (02) 626-5906
Beit Avi Chai’s piyyutim
As Jerusalemites scramble to complete preparations for the High Holy Days, the public is cordially invited to attend the Beit Avi Chai Piyyutim Festival – four days of beautiful liturgical poetry and Jewish music. Due to high demand, Beit Avi Chai, in cooperation with the Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi Institute, decided to expand its programs this year and is now offering six guided tours called “Jerusalem in the Footpaths of Piyyutim.” The tours will explore Nahlaot, Mahaneh Yehuda and the Old City, and will include a live performance of an original liturgical song. One of the most popular tours is titled “Shtetl in the Middle of the City,” and will take participants through a quaint haredi neighborhood.
Dates: Monday, September 29 through Thursday, October 2.
For details:
Creative dramatics
Even if they’re well-planned, tours of the Old City can sometimes be a bit too heavy. So if you’re looking for something lighter and more creative, Doron Travel has the perfect tour for you. Actors who are also guides will take you on an authentic slihot tour, weaving it together with humorous stories and dramatic explanations.
You will meet well-known characters from ancient Jerusalem, who will tell the history of Holy City through their own eyes; the tour is appropriate for all ages and perfect for those who want their Jewish culture with a twist. The group will make its way through the Jewish Quarter and then out into Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Hinnom Valley, Mount Zion, then back to the Western Wall.
Date: Tuesday, September 23.
Length: 2 hours.
Cost: NIS 99.
For details: (02) 561-9955
Location: Jerusalem
Type of outing: Easy walking. Must come in modest dress.
Length: 2-4 hours.
Season: All year long.
Directions: Drive on Road 1. Enter the city and drive towards the Old City of Jerusalem.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.