All throughout the Jewish world, Sepharadi Jews started saying Selichot last night, in preparation of Yom Kippur. In his new book “Likrati Metzaticha”, Rabbi Chaim Sabato describes the magical Selichot of his childhood in the ma’abara (a refugee absorption camp in Israel in the 1950’s):
“Grandpa sings the Selichot with a pleasant tune. The tunes of the Selichot have a lot of sorrow in them – from the sorrow of the Shechinah and the sorrow of Galut (exile) and the sorrow of sin – but they do not have hopelessness in them. They descend to the depths of the heart and rise up to the thoughts of repentance, until they shine again with a flicker of hope. And everyone cries. Some cry for the body and its ailments, and others cry for the torments of their soul who sinned, and some who see others crying – cry with them. And even from the women section crying is heard. One woman stands in a certain corner and sighs, and another stands in another corner opposite her and weeps. The elderly among them sigh for their inequities, begging for a good outcome of their lives. The middle aged women among them cry for their unmarried daughters, and the young girls among them cry because they see their mothers cry. And then everyone – as one – are shaken out of this and cry out: ‘אל רחום וחנון’ (a merciful, compassionate G-d), and after the Selichot they sing with a tune of appeasement, as if they are promised clemency: ‘for on this day He will condone you to purify you of all of your sins.’ Whose heart shall not melt on this day.”
The world has changed. Perhaps the huge rush to Selichot and Selichot tours stems from our deep nostalgic longing to this innocence and simplicity.