Tens of thousands flock to Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest day approaches

The week before the holiest day of the Jewish calendar is an especially busy time at the site closest to the Temple Mount where Jews have prayed for centuries.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, doesn’t fall suddenly into people’s lives every year.

Starting 40 days earlier for Sephardic Jews (and two weeks ago for Ashkenazim), penitential prayers known as Selichot are said in synagogues throughout the world to encourage introspection and contrition in the run-up to the Days of Awe, which culminate in the fast day that begins this year on Tuesday night.

The Selichot are traditionally said at midnight, and in Israel, a most popular place to recite and sing these prayers is the Western Wall, which tradition says is the one place in Israel that God’s Presence has never left.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children have flocked to the Kotel, as it is known in Hebrew, to pray over the last month. Hundreds of thousands are expected Monday night, for the last time Selichot will be said this year.

People come from all over the country. Many are not strictly religious. They come, as one participant told Channel 13 News, because of something in their heart that tugs them to the Western Wall.

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“I think that [Selichot] is something that causes every single one of us to undergo introspection,” said another, Moshe Giyat. “Especially at a time like this, when we need unity in the nation… You see everyone here: Secular, religious, leftists – anyone and everyone. The whole nation of Israel comes here because this place is the heart of every Jew.”

Tourists are also very touched by the sight of so many people praying together.

“We feel a sense of belonging,” said Sarah Zohar. “We come from France, we don’t have this feeling of community, and when we come and see all the people, everyone together, it’s simply heartwarming and terrific.“

According to an Israel Democracy Institute poll, fully 60 percent of the Israeli Jewish population plans on fasting completely on Yom Kippur, with an additional five percent saying they will drink, but not eat.

This, despite the fact that only 23 percent will spend the whole day in the synagogue praying, as religious tradition dictates, with another 19 percent planning on going to at least some of the services.