BiographyBook ReviewsJoin Mailing ListScheduled AppearancesArticlesFeedback


The River
NOT taken on Shavuot, but this is what the Kotel looks like packed with people
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel Insider
May 26, 2004

At 4 a.m on this late May morning, the streets of Jerusalem are flooded. Flooded with Jews of all ages, in all manner of dress, hurrying from all corners of the city in a river flowing towards the Kotel to make it in time to see the stars in the midnight blue sky fade and the sun rise at 4:50 a.m.over the Temple Mount marking the earliest time for the recitation of morning prayers.

On this holiday of Shavuot that commemorates the giving of the Torah, the symbolic wedding between God and the Jewish people, the centuries-old custom of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a night dedicated to Torah study is observed by hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Study sessions of every kind of Jewish thought are held in synagogues, private homes and study halls.

In a Jerusalem synagogue, renowned Washington attorney Nat Lewin presents the drasha delivered in Rszezow, Poland in 1904 by his grandfather and namesake Rabbi Nathan Lewin. In Tel Aviv at the Conservative movement affiliated Iyun Academy, the topic is revelation and fanaticism, while the Poetry Festival in Metulla on the Lebanese border hosts a tikkun featuring Israeli poets like Benjamin Shvili.

Shiri Lev-Ari writing in Haaretz notes that : "The streets of Tel Aviv are full of life all night long, with wide-awake people circulating and exchanging tips that focus on the big question: Which lecture is worth going to now?" "People walk around with Bibles under their arms looking for interesting lectures, " says Iyun Academy Rabbi Roberto Arbiv.

On Palmach Street in Jerusalem, the center of the English-speaking community, the spacious open-plan apartment of Rabbi Ian and Rachel Pear is abuzz with people and discussion at 3 a.m. A few dozen people fill the living room to listen to a lawyer speak about Competing Fairly in the Workplace. Out on the wide porch, the fresh night air keeps an assortment of people awake as journalist Allan Abbey expounds on Lashon Hara (gossip, literally 'bad speech'): How Does It Apply to Journalists? There are members of all ages from the Pear's congregation Shir Hadash, as well as neighbors and visitors who drift through during the night to share coffee and pastries before joining the river flowing to the Kotel.

Just inside Jaffa Gate there's a backup of people as a group of black hatted young men blocks the top of the entrance to the shuk for some impromptu singing and dancing. We skirt around and head south to the St James passageway to make our way through the Jewish Quarter and on down the steps to the Kotel plaza. Despite the throngs, security is relatively light, and we pass quickly through the metal detectors to join the tens of thousands already gathered in the impending dawn. As usual, there are no news cameras or journalists present to document the massive event.

The atmosphere is light, almost light-headed you could say from lack of sleep, as young and old congratulate each other for making it through the night. As the minutes go by, the sky lightens to a pale blue and wisps of white cloud become infused with pink. The birdsong becomes more pronounced and flocks of starlings swoop about above the crowd.

The sounds of prayer begin to well up from the men's side. The river has arrived at its destination.