Thursday night, Career Israel organized a trip to Jerusalem to visit the Kotel (wailing wall) after midnight for Selichot.
We left around 6pm.
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.
Our 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.
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.
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.