By Adi Peled, UJS Senior Shlicha
When I moved to Jerusalem, I was presented with a unique opportunity to visit the Western Wall for the Selichot prayers before Yom Kippur. Prior to this, I had never quite felt the inclination to make the lengthy journey from the north to Jerusalem, endure traffic, and stay awake through the night for this experience.
Year after year, I diligently observed Yom Kippur, honoring tradition, yet never attending the Selichot service. However, upon my relocation to Jerusalem, something changed within me. It was the serene atmosphere that envelops the city as Shabbat approaches, the closing of shops, people donning white attire, making their way to synagogues. I had never encountered such sanctity before, aside from Yom Kippur in my hometown, when the entire city comes to a standstill, everyone clad in white, wandering the streets, children riding bicycles on the roads. No cars, no noise, just the voices of people. It's that fixed period when everyone congregates, reuniting after a while, sitting and conversing deep into the night, free from phones, devoid of pressure, for 25 hours.
Suddenly, I began to sense the holiness of Yom Kippur even on regular Fridays, and I started to feel a profound need to delve deeper into my heritage and gain a better understanding of the tradition, driven by curiosity and a sense of belonging. I remember a friend who visited from abroad and, during our trip to the Western Wall, remarked, "Do you realize that we are standing on ground where people have prayed for countless generations, and here we are as if it's a given?"
That statement resonated with me, prompting me to desire more knowledge. So, that year, following Yom Kippur, I was encouraged to attend the Selichot service at the Western Wall.
I had never witnessed the Western Wall in that manner, with thousands of individuals assembled together, collectively uttering prayers beneath the open sky. The Western Wall stood illuminated, and a profound sense of reverence filled the air. I felt deeply connected to my people, my tradition, and my history. I felt as though I was fulfilling dreams held by generations before they could even dream of seeing and touching the Western Wall.
Should you ever find yourself in Israel in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, I implore you to attend the Selichot service at the Western Wall. It's an experience that can be described with countless words, yet those words will never truly encapsulate the essence of the experience until you personally stand before the Western Wall and feel it for yourself.
Perhaps there's a single video clip from that evening that continues to move me, even after repeated viewings, as I am reminded of the privilege of being present in that moment.