Selichot at the Kotel


Thursday night, Career Israel organized a trip to Jerusalem to visit the Kotel (wailing wall) after midnight for Selichot.

We left around 6pm.

Rafi and Jonathan


Traffic was pretty bad, and what should have taken an hour or less took close to 1 3/4 hours.

Once we arrived, one of  the very first things I saw was this guy dressed in a tiger costume.

SONY DSCOur first stop was the headquarters of Aish Hatorah,  “an apolitical network of Jewish educational centers in 35 branches on five continents.” We listened to a brief talk about the meaning of Yom Kippur and selichot and watched a few short videos (including this amusing Rosh Hashanah parody) before heading up to their roof for an amazing view of the still reasonably empty Kotel.

SONY DSCI used the binoculars they had on the roof (which did not cost a quarter, despite being owned by Jews) to get this photo of the religious men down by the Kotel singing and dancing in a circle.



One thing they demonstrated for us was an app they developed, that works only from their rooftop, which shows a digital overlay of the original temple displayed over what is now the Western Wall and dome of the rock. It moves as you change your orientation, and was actually quite cool as a way to see what the view must originally have been like.


The whole time on the roof, we were watched over by soldiers. With somewhere close to 100,000 people expected at the wall, security was very tight.


From Aish Hatorah, we made our way back into the heart of the old city for an hour of dinner and exploring.


Originally, I thought the tiger guy was just someone festively dressed up. But it soon became clear that the night was all about fundraising and charity, and dozens of different organizations were vying for attention and donations in various ways – including ridiculous costumes.


I got falafel for dinner, and then hung out with my weird friends.






After dinner, we took a short walk to a rooftop away from the wall. Here we split up into pairs to talk about our last year and our upcoming year, sang a few songs, and burnt any regrets or things we were unhappy about.




Around 12:30am, we made our way back toward the Kotel.

By this time, the area was PACKED with all sorts of Jews – religious Haredi in top hats and long black coats, less religious Jews with talit and kippot, and even “bro” Jews, pushing and shoving and yelling and looking like they’d be more at home at a shirtless EDM concert or driving their souped up cars around a parking lot blaring dubstep. Or getting into fights. But still wearing kippot and coming to the holiest site in Israel!

It was quite a sight.


And then we arrived at the wall. It was CRAZY.

Not only was the square down by the wall completely full, but every public walkway, ledge, and overlook that had a sight of the wall was packed. Even spaces facing the wall but without a sight of it had people praying.


We managed to make our way closer, and hear some of the prayers. Selichot are penitential prayers and poems that you say particularly before Yom Kippur, and tonight they were lead by some of the most senior rabbis in the entirety of Israel.

No matter the day or time though, Israeli soldiers are always ready.


By 1:30am it was time to head home. Even so, people were still  streaming towards the wall. I managed to find the one abandoned street in the entirety of the Old City, I think.


While waiting for the bus, we saw a number of tables of chickens being waved over people’s heads.

One thing that’s surprised me on this trip is that instead of feeling more religious from living in Israel, I actually feel less. (If that’s possible?) I think being surrounded by Judaism every day makes it not more relate-able, as I had originally expected, but even more unnecessary and bizarre.

The chicken thing really drove that home for me. People believe that waving a chicken around their head a few times and reciting a line from the bible will transfer their sins to the chicken. And then by killing the chicken you get rid of the sins. (The dead chickens are, thankfully, at least donated to be used in pre-fast meals by the needy.)

This is some weird, voodoo level shit, and if you can believe in 2014 that waving a hen about your head will grant you a better life, then you’re an idiot. I just can’t relate to any belief system or person who can accommodate such an insane idea. And I’m glad I saw two of them get pooped on.

That said, I have met a lot of amazing, secular Israelis who make me exceptionally glad to have come here. For every religious nut, there are a dozen more level-headed, warm, rational (and usually very attractive) individuals to balance them out.

But I digress. Moral: Don’t shake live animals about your head and think it will make things better. And if you do, there’s a good chance it will shit on you.

We finally got on the buses around 2:35am, and were back at the apartments at 4:00am.

I slept until noon, and then biked down the middle of an 8 lane highway 125km from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and back.

But that’s for the next entry.

5 thoughts on “Selichot at the Kotel

  1. I am really glad that you are having these experiences and hope your internship is as fruitful. Now, I do have to add a few things about religion…I know that you are smarter than what you wrote and that you realize for every chicken waving person, there are not dozens but thousands of Israelis as well as, Jews around the world that simply find our faith fulfilling regardless of whether you believe in God or not. Judaism is based on truth, justice and charity. That sums up the religion at it’s core. I am as cautious about being influenced as anyone but I’ve found and truly believe that roots in something good, roots embedded in a belief can help you in times of distress as well as, joy. What I don’t get with today’s youth [not saying you] is this thing they have against organized religion. I can understand the concept and actually agree from an extreme point of view, but underlying all of that bullshit is simply a cop-out that they use as a way to not try to see what’s there. Most of my jewish friends that have children are in a similar situation e.g. the children grown do not have a faith or certainly do not actively participate in their Jewish heritage. I find that sad because there is much value in the teachings of Judaism e.g. forget the religion and simply focus on the teachings. Strip away the biblical stories and just listen to the messages of honesty, charity, rightousness and hundreds of other ideas that form the core of our faith. I find it especially sad that my grandchildren will not have roots in those principles of life’s foundation. It doesn’t matter whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim [other than the totally idiotic jihadist that want to take our freedom of choices away], Hindu or whatever…children including young adults need to have an opportunity to be exposed to the values provided in our religion. Where else will they get them…not at home, not at school, not on the street corners or the heroin dens or wherever they may find themselves…..

    1. Hey Jack –

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you that honesty, charity, righteousness, and general conscious living (which I think is a very good way to sum up much of Judaism) are very valuable and noble values to have. And I would agree with you that there is something special about Judaism and its focus on knowledge, community, education, and being a citizen of the world.

      What I don’t think, though, is that one needs an organized religion, founded on the belief in a supernatural, all-powerful being overseeing all, to instill those traits in me. Nor do I appreciate the antiquated, anti-science, often insular, and honestly generally quite absurd beliefs that are part and parcel of nearly all religions.

      I appreciate Jewish culture significantly from being here. And maybe that’s something I haven’t stressed enough. I feel less religious but more Jewish here. And that’s weird for me. And I am struggling with the idea of appreciating Jewish culture while also knowing that while it is somehow different from Jewish religion, it cannot exist and would not exist and does not exist *without* that religion. That’s a difficult thing to reconcile as someone who’s bothered by religion.

      But I do know that people waving chickens over their heads to absorb sins, or delaying flights because they refuse to sit next to women, or spitting on my friends in the street because of how they are dressed – those are all the fruits of this religion, and they’re all dumb, insulting, or downright unacceptable. I don’t think all religious Jews are like that, but nor do I think people without religion are as likely to do those things.

      Perhaps the issue is not with religion, but with how it is practiced. But does a religion exist outside of how it is practiced?

      Certainly there are hundreds of thousands of awesome, kind, logical, accepting, sensible, reasonable Jews out there. And I have no issues with them. What I do have issues with are willful ignorance (see kaparot, for example) and intolerance. Both of which go inherently hand-in-hand with religion.

      Spirituality is something different, in my opinion – a much more personal and accepting form of faith that encourages rather than discourages introspection and questioning, and truly leaves open a space for others who may be unlike you to enjoy an equal place in your world. And I think maybe that’s how you see Judiasm? Or maybe the way you see Judaism is how I see faith.

      Either way, I hope you do not think that I view any self-identified Jew as a fool. (Though I stand by my statement that anyone who believes in kaparot is.) And I also hope you do not think I find no value in Judaism. I don’t, and I do, respectively. I just don’t find value in the practice of organized religion – just as many folks *do* find value in it – and harmonizing the disparity between those two beliefs (value in the culture but not in the religion) is something I am working through here on a daily basis.

      And thank you again for sharing your views.

  2. The chicken may be a metaphor for life. Just because one does not have shit on his head does not mean one is not a shit head, Yodda. Whats your chicken?

    May the road be kind and your tiers all ways have air.


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