Last night, after lighting candles to mark the beginning of Shavuot, we held our own abbreviated Tikkun Leil Shavuot, where Ariella led a learning session for us about the whereabouts of the 10 lost Tribes of Israel.
We then woke up at 4 a.m. to join the tens of thousands of worshippers making their way to the Kotel in the blessedly cool air of the pre-dawn. It started with a trickle of people, many dressed in white, filing in from every side street to join us in our walk down Jaffa Road as if drawn by a powerful magnet. Most had been awake all night studying Torah.
As we got closer to the Jaffa Gate to the Old City, the crowds in the darkened streets grew thicker, until there was barely room to move. We heard Hebrew, Russian, French, but mostly English, as we made our way with anticipation through the Jewish Quarter to the stairway leading to the Kotel plaza. Below us was the largest gathering of Jews any of us of had every seen. Every rooftop and inch of sidewalk seemed to have a minyan, with sounds of prayer coming from every direction.
Judah said, “No matter how hectic and chaotic it was, everyone was united for a certain cause.” Naomi agreed, adding that “People were letting us through the crowd; it wasn’t about ‘me, me me’– it was about, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, come in and join us.'” Elana said she felt “part of a big community” when the girls tried to squeeze through the masses of people to get closer to the Kotel.
As the sun rose over the Western Wall, with birds swooping overhead and the voices of the throngs of people rising in prayer, we recited the Sh’ma and Amidah together. It was a moment none of us will ever forget.
Later in the day (after a much-needed nap), Ariella led us on a tour of the Mahane Yehudah when it was closed for the holiday, a stark contrast to the bustling Shuk yesterday. It was a walk through history thanks to the portraits of important Israeli and Jewish figures painted on the shutters of many of the shops by graffiti artist Solomon Souza (learn more about this project here). We then had playtime in a nearby park, and after the holiday ended, enjoyed dinner and shopping on Ben Yehudah Street.
Tomorrow is all about tunnels, with the cameras back in action … stay tuned!