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A night of perfect grace in Jerusalem

The Western Wall
Photo: Flash90

No social media campaign trumpeted this event. It had no spokesperson, no formal organization. But I was privileged to be there, and here is what I saw:

Thousands of people in the center of Jerusalem learning Torah in the middle of the night in lectures, seminars and hevruta study pairs, or reciting the traditional Shavuot Tikkun. A father and his son, spied through a window long after midnight, sitting in an empty synagogue studying the Book of Samuel together.

At 4:00 am, tens of thousands of people spilling out of all of the city’s neighborhoods and alleys, making their way on foot to the Western Wall. Some of them comfortable, mainstream types, with eyes half-closed (like me), some smoking cigarettes because it’s a holiday that permits lighting fire from a preexisting flame. Some Hassidim with towels over their shoulders because they went to dip in the mikveh in honor of the receiving of the Torah, and some — especially the youth — just walking while singing and dancing.

The huge quantities of food, drink and candies that people brought throughout the night to the security people deployed around the city. When we offer something to the two military police soldiers from the Druze town of Daliyat El Karmel on Shivtei Israel Street, they refuse, because they have already received such an abundance.

Arriving at the Kotel: The myriad minyanim, the cacophony of prayer styles and liturgical hymns and accents. I ask every person I meet where they are from. They came from southern Israel, from the Golan Heights, from Gush Etzion, from the greater Tel-Aviv area, from the Gaza periphery. I had no idea so many individuals and families make the effort to make this pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

And then I realize this is not just an Israeli story at all, we are part of something bigger. By my estimate, thousands of Jews flew from New York alone just to be here for these moments. The women standing next to me, flushed with excitement, told me they were part of a WIZO delegation from Mexico, Panama and Peru.

Going up to the roof of the Aish HaTorah yeshiva with a group of students from the Nefesh Yehudi project who were hearing, for the first time in their lives, the verses of Hallel sung at such a location and at such a time. And the Book of Ruth. And the Ten Commandments.

And the way all these multitudes of people later left the place quietly.

And the next morning, I read the newspaper, and all I find is a summary of the traffic jams and the number of visitors to Israel’s national parks over the holiday.

And that’s why I wrote this.


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