Coming after the High Holidays, Sukkot – the Jewish festival of the harvest – is for most a low key affair. But not so for the crowd of worshipers who gathered Wednesday in front of the Western Wall for a holiday prayer session.
Numbering in the tens of thousands, the group congregated to recite a special invocation – the birkat kohanim – that descendants of Judaism’s ancient priestly class chant in large public crowds around Sukkot and Passover. Here’s the video from the event, and some things to look out for.
1. The Lulav and Etrog
Celebrating the harvest festival, observant Jews collect one branch each from willow, palm, and myrtle trees, as well as a citrus fruit (etrog), into an arrangement known as a lulav. During the holiday, Jews shake the lulav while at prayer, which can be seen in the video.
2. Very Few Women
According to Orthodox Judaism, only adult male descendants of the ancient priestly class (kohanim), who served religious functions in the First and Second Temples, may themselves be recognized as members of that class. A look at the video shows that far more men in attendance than women — who occupy a small area in front of the wall behind the mechitza, or ritual barrier, that separates the genders.
3. Big Security Presence
Notice the checkpoints and guards with machine guns. Violence in Jerusalem’s Old City has been on the rise of late, due to conflicts over access to religious sites. Many Jews would like to pray on the Temple Mount, the area above the Western Wall that marks the site of the ancient temples and now houses the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. That has stirred outrage from Muslims, with occasional clashes erupting.
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.