Slihot tours in Jerusalem

From the Cardo, continue to the Hurva Synagogue, where local poets sing liturgical prayers traditionally sung during the days leading up to Rosh Hashana.

A woman plays the harp among excavations as part of holiday visits (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
A woman plays the harp among excavations as part of holiday visits
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The most meaningful place to be in the month of Elul, just before Rosh Hashana, is Jerusalem. This is a wonderful period, during which the city fills up with people coming to experience the holiness and spirituality of the Jewish capital.
For all the years that the Romans ruled over Jerusalem, Jews were forbidden from entering except on one day of the year – Tisha Be’av, the fast day on which the Jews mourn the destruction of both Temples. We now can be grateful to enter the Old City whenever we please and experience the beauty and magic it has to offer.
During Elul, Jerusalem is filled with the sounds of modern-day pilgrims who gather from the four corners of the earth to take part in Slihot tours, which help prepare them for the Rosh Hashana. It is a time when we engage in soul searching and reflect on our past deeds and how we want to improve ourselves in the upcoming year.
During these weeks, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City comes to life as thousands of Slihot tour participants in dozens of different groups visit famous synagogues and archeological sites spread across the Jewish Quarter. Walk through the Old City and stumble upon lyricists reciting Jewish mystical poetry, and hear a veteran member of a local synagogue tell stories about wise men and miracles that took place there many years ago.
The Jerusalem Municipality has declared 5776 to be the Year of hakhel (assembly) and will conduct Slihot tours beginning in mid-September.
Hakhel is a concept from the Bible in which all of the Jewish people – including children – were ordered to gather at the Temple at the end of the shmita (sabbatical) year. It didn’t matter who you were or whether you were in the midst of an argument with your boss or neighbor – everyone went.
Today, walking around on your own is possible since all the major sites have clear and detailed signs.
Walk through the Old City until you reach the Cardo, the heart of the Jewish Quarter.
Archeologists who unearthed the Cardo had an inkling of what they would find because they had an ancient map that had been found in a Byzantine church. The Cardo, which stretched all the way from the Zion Gate to the Damascus Gate, was the city center, with a bustling marketplace.
When the archeologists started digging there, they found two rows of marble columns, proving that the location had held great significance.
From the Cardo, continue to the Hurva Synagogue, where local poets sing liturgical prayers traditionally sung during the days leading up to Rosh Hashana.
The incredible story surrounding the construction of the synagogue begins in 1700, when the mystic Rabbi Yehuda Hehassid arrived with his followers, who believed that by moving to Jerusalem they were advancing the arrival of the Messiah. Unfortunately, Rabbi Yehuda died just days after his arrival, and his disciples were at a loss as to what to do without the direction of their leader. A few decided to build a synagogue, but soon discovered that the project was very expensive.
They took extensive loans from their Muslim neighbors and began construction of the synagogue. But when they were unable to repay their debts, the Muslims’ patience ran out and they burned down the synagogue. Ashkenazi leaders were imprisoned, and the rest of the Ashkenazi community was banished from the city for 100 years.
Sephardi Jews, on the other hand, continued to live there with no problem; when Ashkenazim wanted to come to Jerusalem, they had to wear clothing that was common among Sephardi Jews.
In the early 19th century, another group of Jews – Perushim (followers of the Vilna Gaon) – arrived in Jerusalem and tried to have the debt on the Hurva compound canceled. After numerous trips to Europe, they obtained a permit from the sultan in Constantinople and made great efforts to raise funds around the world to rebuild the synagogue. Despite efforts to change the synagogue’s name, people continued to refer to it as the Hurva (ruin).
In May 1948, the War of Independence broke out and the synagogue was destroyed by the Arabs. When IDF troops finally regained control of the Old City in 1967, the extent of the disaster became clear: Little was left of the beautiful building.
Ten years later, an arch was built at the site to show the location and encourage people to tell the story. Only in 2008 was the complete reconstruction finally finished. The synagogue is once again being used by Jews who come to say their prayers.
From the Hurva, continue on to the Herodian Quarter. In 1969, archeologists began excavations at the site, which revealed six luxurious houses, ritual baths, mosaics and a unique wall etching of a menorah from the time of King Herod.
Finish at a lookout point with a view of the Western Wall, which is bursting with people at all times of day and night at this time of year.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.