Tens of thousands of Jews from all walks of life are flocking to Jerusalem each night to witness the midnight “forgiveness prayers”  (“Selichot” in Hebrew) taking place throughout the holy city in the days leading up to the High Holidays.  They come to learn more and experience the tradition of reciting liturgy and prayers of repentance at midnight in the week leading up to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

Some tours include professional cantors who sing the Selichot as they walk through the Old City.  Some tours include playing recordings of tunes used in the service, and others include actual musical acts.  There is even one which veers from the service itself and focuses on Jerusalem’s culinary delights.

Photo by Michal Fattal

Doron Yosha, director of Doron Tours, organized 100 “Selichot tours”  of between 30 and 40 people each.   He told Haaretz reporter Judy Maltz that most of the participants are not religious and explained that “The growing popularity of these tours – almost to the point of a craze – is the latest sign of a newly kindled interest in Jewish traditions among secular Israelis.  Today, in Israeli society, we’re seeing this trend of going back to tradition, which has little to do with religious observance.” 

Leslie Perlberg, who lives in Zichron Yaakov and describes herself as secular described the experience to the Haaretz reporter: “This was our second year going, and we’ve decided we’re going to do this every year now. First of all, it’s a great excuse for us to come to Jerusalem. Especially at this time of year, the air is so great here at night. But more than that, it helps remind us of the true meaning of this time of year. We tend to get so wrapped up in all the cooking, we forget about the spiritual side of these holidays.”

Reported by DOV LIPMAN for United with Israel.

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