A Time of Repentance: Experience the Holy Months of Elul and Tishrei

Beginning on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, many Jewish communities wake up before sunrise to recite selichot, prayers asking for atonement of sins.  They continue this ritual for 40 days, through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “It is a really intense and special atmosphere on the streets at this time of year,” says Yosef Spiezer, operations manager of tour company Israel 2-GO, which offers evening tours centered around the rituals of Selichot.  It is this atmosphere that Spiezer aims to show people on his tours.  One version of the tour begins at the Windmill, near the Inbal Hotel, where participants learn about the history and role of repentance in Judaism.  The Hebrew word for this concept is “tshuva,” or return. “It’s about coming back to God,” Spiezer says.  The tour then winds through the alleyways of the Old City, and makes another stop on Mount Zion, near King David’s Tomb.  There are spectacular views from here, and, on most evenings this time of year, musicians playing harps and other instruments on the street. The tour ends at the Western Wall, where participants can have their own time for introspection. The company’s other tour focuses on the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. “You can see it’s a different energy in the air, people talk to each other differently,” he says, with people on the street wishing each other “a good sealing” in the Book Of Life, which is believed to be closed each year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Men also tend to spend longer hours in yeshivas or praying at synagogues, preparing for the solemn day. “It’s like you are going to court in a few days and you have to prepare,” he says. The tours are small and all outdoors, making them a safe way to explore the city during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Tours are given weekly Hebrew, starting Aug. 26, but can also be arranged in English. There are discounts available for Inbal Hotel guests for tours with Israel 2-Go, as well as at many other sites, including the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, the Biblical Zoo, The Begin Heritage Center and the Tower of David.