Earlier today, with an Artscroll Yom Kippur Machzor under my arm, sneakers on my feet, and my children flanking me on each side, we started the hour-long trek to the Kotel. After my husband and I joined the Minyan that our brother-in-law davens at for Mincha and Neila last year, we decided to return with our children this year. To our surprise, they were more than willing to join. It may have to do with the fact that their cousins joined us too. I’m almost positive that it had nothing to do with a minor bribe I offered. I’m sure not.
After a month long preparation for Rosh Hashana, and then the ten days leading up to Yom Kippur (the day we pray to G-d for complete forgiveness for any and all transgressions we may have committed over the year) we were on a sort of spiritual high. Normally I dread fast days, but something very special happens in Israel on Yom Kippur. The entire country shuts down. There are no airplanes flying overhead, there are no cars driving on the streets. Everyone respects the holiness of the holiday. Whether people are in synagogue praying or at home with their family, it is a day of introspection.
The kids were excited to walk through the streets of Jerusalem without fear of cars passing by. At one point, our walking group was so large it spanned the width of the street. As we wished a Gmar Chatima Tova and a Shana Tova to people walking by, they too wished us a good new year. My body was running on adrenaline. Otherwise, I have no other explanation as to how I had the energy on a fast day to walk in the heat up and down the hills of Jerusalem. Pure adrenaline. A feeling of happiness on the most serious day of the year. Knowing that I have the ability to walk through the ancient streets of Jerusalem leading to the holiest site we have access to: The Kotel.
About halfway through our walk, my 8 year old daughter said to me, “Mommy, you don’t have to buy me a treat for walking to the Kotel. I didn’t realize that this experience would be enough of a treat!” My 10 year old daughter, who had already joined me on our 3am walk to the Kotel on Shavuot night, remarked, “I really love walking to the Kotel with you, Mommy. Thank you for giving me this experience.”
This Kotel minyan we Daven at was started by my brother-in-law’s grandfather and his cousin Ludwig Jesselson. It has been running for many decades and since Ludwig’s passing, it has been run by his son, Bunny. My brother-in-law, Michael Eisenberg, became the Chazan for Ne’ila some years ago (which is how we discovered it) and to time his davening so we reach Birkat Kohanim (the blessing of the Priests) before sundown, he uses Ludwig Jesselson’s good Yekke (German) watch that is now worn by his son Bunny. Such are traditions.
As we were organizing our seats, I overheard some women speaking about how they’ve been joining this minyan for years without any knowledge as to who organizes it. They return year after year anticipating the beauty of the davening. It was my pleasure to let them know about the background of the Minyan.
If you’ve been on the Kotel platform in the afternoon hours, you are well aware of the sun’s strength beating down on your head. But I had renewed strength while looking up at the old Jerusalem stones, watching the birds flying overhead, and hearing the sweet little girls giggling as they chased the pigeons while their mothers and fathers prayed. I ignored the hunger and thirst pangs as I started to feel the sun go down with a light breeze that accompanied the welcome shade.
As the day was ending and the prayers were concluding, I felt a fresh sense of energy. Thanking G-d for this holy and special day. A day to ask for forgiveness, and hope to be forgiven. A day to start over with a clean slate. How lucky I was to stand at the Kotel with my family at my side and sing L’Shana Haba’a B’Yerushalayim. Just watching my son’s head appear over the Kotel partition while my husband, Yosef, danced with him on his shoulders, was enough to put a huge smile on my face. We are home. Jerusalem is our home. May all of Am Yisrael have the merit and ability to spend next year in Jerusalem.