Shavuot in Jerusalem

Tags: Shavuot, Bible, Land and Nature, Jerusalem, David Solkowitz

By David Solkowitz

I grew up in a fairly observant household when it came to Judaism, observing most every Jewish holiday that came up. Maybe that is why when the opportunity presented itself for me to spend a Shavuot in Jerusalem, I jumped at the chance. It's one thing to stay up late and study at synagogue with family and other members of the community, most of whom you know or are at least familiar with, but to be able to be in the holiest city in Judaism and study all night, then cap it off by praying at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, that is something else entirely.

In 2013, two friends and I had to lobby the program we were on to let us stay in a hostel in the Old City so we could do Shavuot in Jerusalem. This past Shavuot, in 2015, I again was in Israel for the holiday where Jews celebrate the receiving of the Torah, and this time, the program I was on planned for us to be in Jerusalem for Shavuot and also gave us the tools to be able to experience Shavuot in the Old City to its fullest.

Twice I've been able to spend Shavuot in Jerusalem, and both times were incredible. The first time I was able to bounce back and forth with my friends between various study sessions, having studied in the house of a rabbi in the Old City, a yeshiva for younger guys close to the age we were, and even just on the streets of Jerusalem at 2AM. Late at night turned to early in the morning, which was capped off, albeit at 6AM, by praying at the Western Wall with tens of thousands of Jews. Between studying and staying up all night with close friends, it was a surreal holiday experience I never thought I would top. That held true for one year, because I found myself back in Jerusalem for Shavuot two years later.

Thousands of religious Jews at sun rise at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, as they complete studying and reading the Torah on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot in Jerusalem’s Old City, Israel, 15 May 2013. Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. It is a time of study for religious Jews who stay up through the night reading the Torah. Credit: EPA

I knew that I wanted to do more or less the same thing I had done two years prior, except I knew this time would be easier. I had access to a structured study program through Aish HaTorah, as opposed to having to find my own way with my friends. At 11:30PM, I went down to the Western Wall and just read Torah. I did that for about an hour, until I went to sit in on classes at Aish. I did that until 3AM, at which time I saw fit to engage in a deep and meaningful study session on the comfort level of my pillow in the hotel room. That study session lasted about a half hour before I went to make my way back into the Old City.

One of the lesser known things about the Aish building in Jerusalem is it has arguably the best view of the Kotel in Israel without having to go through any security lines to get there. That is why I made the choice to go experience Shavuot in the Old City the second time, from the roof of the Aish building. I had already been a part of the masses that form down at the Wall itself, so this time I wanted to be able to take in the experience without having to worry about crowds. It was one of the most incredible scenes I've ever witnessed. It was an absolute sea of white and black and crowded to the point that it was impossible to tell that there were even mechitzas, the wall separating men and women, in the back plaza.

The feelings and emotions that I felt standing up on the roof at 5:30 in the morning and seeing tens of thousands of people shoulder to shoulder are tough to capture with words. One of the most commonly recited phrases to younger Jews, especially those who are very involved in their Jewish communities, is that Judaism is slowly fading into oblivion due to assimilation. Whether or not that is true is one thing, but standing up on the roof and seeing so many Jews unified in prayer and purpose proved to me that Judaism is by no means a dying religion. In that moment, I felt a part of Israel, a part of Judaism, and I felt a part of something so much bigger than myself.

Having been a part of the giant mob of people praying at the Western Wall only two years prior and then to be able to look out at the Wall and see everyone who was there, the feelings that surfaced were incredible. Thousands of people, celebrating the same thing, saying the same words, in some cases wearing the same kind of clothing, it was magnificent. It is one of those 'you had to be there' things, but it is never something that is going away. The best part is that every year, this happens again.

Year after year, every Shavuot since 1967, Jews have gathered in masses at the Western Wall to celebrate receiving the Torah. That is why, in my opinion, everyone should try to be in Jerusalem for a Shavuot at some point in their lives. You experience things and are part of something so incredible, it can be difficult to accurately and adequately describe and express it. I have not had any prayer experiences more meaningful and inspiring to me than the experiences I had being in the Old City for Shavuot.

David Solkowitz, a former intern for Israel Forever, is currently a Jewish Studies and Journalism major at Indiana University. He is a dedicated and passionate student when it comes to Israel. In his free time, David enjoys writing about his experiences, travels and connection to the Jewish homeland.

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Tags: Shavuot, Bible, Land and Nature, Jerusalem, David Solkowitz

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