‘Slihot’ on tour

Experience the preparation for the High Holy Days in the ancient synagogues and alleyways of Jerusalem and Safed, Tiberias and Peki’in, and a modern version at the Tel Aviv Port.

It is recommended to participate in an organized tour at least once, to experience hidden treasures (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
It is recommended to participate in an organized tour at least once, to experience hidden treasures
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The month of Elul is a time for contemplation, reflection and introspection. One of the nicest ways to prepare for the New Year and connect with our Jewish roots is by participating in an evening slihot (penitential prayers) tour. These tours usually focus on holy objects and sites in cities such as Jerusalem and Safed, where participants can catch a glimpse of the thousands of people coming to pray in the days leading up to the High Holy Days.
The most popular place to visit on slihot tours is the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. If you’re touring the Jewish Quarter (either in a guided tour or on your own), you will be able to view ancient structures and see breathtaking views of Jerusalem at night.
There’s a plethora of small synagogues, archeological excavations that are being carried out underneath people’s homes, and museums that tell the history of the Jewish Quarter. And, of course, no visit to the Old City would be complete without a stop at the Western Wall, which is full of people day and night this time of year.
Although roaming around the Old City is lots of fun on your own, I recommend – at least once – joining an organized guided slihot tour. The reason for this is that the guides can lead you to spots that you would never have noticed if you were walking around on your own.
In addition, they know an endless amount of facts and amusing anecdotes about the Jewish Quarter, engage in role-playing and play musical instruments, all of which will help you get into the mystical atmosphere of Elul. There are quite a few different tours to choose from, so I've chosen a few of the best ones:
Yalla Basta
The Yalla Basta company, which specializes in culinary shuk tours, is now also conducting guided tours of the Jewish Quarter and Western Wall. Their three tours take guests through the most ancient synagogues of the Old City, David’s Tomb, and end with a panoramic view of the Western Wall. You’ll hear people singing liturgical songs customarily sung during the month of Elul, and participate in a discussion about the meaning of the Days of Awe in our current age and in olden times.
Dates: Wednesday, September 28; Thursday, October 6; and Monday, October 10; from 9 p.m. until midnight.
Price: NIS 79.
Details and registration: 055-664-6684.
Another company that conducts slihot tours is Maslulim – To fall in Love with Israel Again. Tours will be led by guides Eran and David Gal-Or until the day before Yom Kippur, which this year falls on October 11. Their tours incorporate the recitation of slihot in a number of synagogues, watching worshipers congregate at the Western Wall, and walking through the alleyways of the Jewish Quarter in the wee hours of the morning. One of their tours, which is titled “The Morning Watch in Nahlaot,” takes place between 3:30 and 6:30 a.m. Not many people can be found on the streets at these hours, so you can visit places without having to worry about passersby. This is a great opportunity to delve into the intoxicating atmosphere of the Old City before the Day of Judgment.
Dates: Friday, September 30; Friday, October 7; and Tuesday, October 11.
Details and registration: 054-240-6657, 054-240-6653.
Slihot in Tiberias
If you’d like to participate in a guided slihot tour that will not break the bank, the Tiberias Hotel Association runs evening tours during the hours when there’s a cool refreshing breeze coming off the Kinneret. The tours take place every Monday in September at 9 p.m.
They introduce you to the holiness of Tiberias, as you pass through famous synagogues where guests hear about the history of the site. Guests visit the Hassidei Karlin Synagogue and Rabbi Abulafia’s Etz Haim synagogue, before arriving at the ancient mikve (ritual bath) where guests will be treated to the singing of Tiberias- style slihot. The last stop of the tour will be the El Senor Sephardi synagogue, unless you still have energy left and want to continue on to the Tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness.
Date: Monday, September 26, at 9 p.m.
Starting point: the archeological park across from the Leonardo Plaza.
Tours are free of charge.
Preregistration required: 054-228-2373.
Treasures of the Galilee has launched a project that sets out to tell the life story of Margalit Zinati, the last Jew to live in the village of Peki’in. The tour starts at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai, where it is believed he discovered secrets of the Kabbala. To reconnect with their roots, participants are led to a cave where they will hear the story of how Bar-Yohai hid out from the Romans and led an ascetic life inside a cave. Guests learn about the connection between Elul and the study of Jewish mystical texts.
From there, participants walk down the path to the Peki’in Spring, where they can view the unique human mosaic and hear from local Druse residents about their religion, which is also very secretive and mysterious.
The tour ends at the ancient synagogue, where participants enjoy a performance of slihot and hear Margalit Zinati live.
Dates: Sunday, September 26; Wednesday, September 28; Thursday, October 6; and Sunday, October 9.
Time: 7 p.m. Tour lasts 2.5 hours.
Price: NIS 60 for adults and NIS 40 for children.
Starting point: Road 864, the main road of the village.
Park near the exit from the Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai Tomb.
For details and registration: 077-996-4430.
Tel Aviv Port
Tel Aviv Port will be holding its fifth annual sunset slihot concert featuring the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra of Ashdod. The concert is geared toward religious and secular Jews alike who are interested in getting into the spirit of Elul in the heart of Tel Aviv. Traditional and popular liturgical songs will be sung, conducted by Sivan Albo Ben-Hur. The concert will be accompanied by Orit Atar, Lior Elmaleh and Manny Cohen.
Location: Tel Aviv Port.
Date: Sunday, October 9, at 7:30 p.m.
Price: Free.
KKL-JNF is holding its annual “Enchanting Alleyways of Safed” slihot tour. The bus begins its journey in Tel Aviv, and also makes a stop in Haifa. On the way to Safed, the tour group visits the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai at Mount Meron. When the tour reaches the Old City of Safed, which comes to life in Elul, the group will walk through the alleyways of the Old City and stop at an ancient synagogue, where participants will hear local residents chanting the traditional slihot.
Date: Thursday, September 29, at 3 p.m.
Starting point: Tel Aviv.
Estimated time of return back to Tel Aviv: midnight.
Price: NIS 120.
Details and registration: 1-800-350-550.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.