Bar Mitzvahs at the Western Wall

Today is my 64th birthday and our last day in Israel.  This group we have joined will spend a few days now in Jerusalem and late tonight we will head to the airport to fly home.  We are sad to step away and leave this holy place and grateful for the time we’ve been here.

This morning the bus took us to Jerusalem’s Old City dropping us at the Dung Gate on the south side.  We went to the Western Wall together.  It was a fun day there because today is a Bar mitzvah day.  We saw 7 or 8 different groups going to the wall with their little troupes.  Some, you could tell, had traveled far to celebrate here.

Each group was different.  There was usually a drummer, an oboe or saxophone player, a singer, and family members.  Some family members held blue and white balloons.  Each group held up a white canopy while the nervous son or daughter walked to the Wall under the canopy, surrounded by friends and family singing and dancing.  They played and sang traditional Israeli songs like Hava Nagila.  It’s loud and festive and a real celebration.

Here are a few very fun video clips of these celebrations:

All of the celebrating groups made their way to the Western Wall, the men and boys going to the left side and the women and girls to the right.  There are so many things about this culture and religion that feel so right to me.  I feel like we have the same roots.

Note the Phylacteries, also called Tefillin described here in Wikipedia:

Tefillin (/ˈtfɪlɪn/; Israeli Hebrew: תְּפִלִּין‎ / תְּפִילִּין‎; Ashkenazic pronunciation: [tfiˈlin]), or phylacteries, are a set of small black leather boxes with leather straps containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. Tefillin are worn by adult Jews during weekday morning prayers. In Orthodox and traditional communities, they are worn solely by men, while some Reform and Conservative (Masorti) communities allow them to be worn by any gender.

Although “tefillin” is technically the plural form (the singular being “tefillah”), it is often used as a singular as well. The arm-tefillah (or shel yad [literally “of the hand”]) is placed on the upper (non-dominant) arm, and the strap wrapped around the forelimb, hand and middle finger; while the head-tefillah (or shel rosh [literally “of the head”]) is placed between the eyes at the boundary of the forehead and hair. They are intended to fulfill the Torah’s instructions to maintain a continuous “sign” and “remembrance” of the Exodus from Egypt, as they were originally worn all day, from sunrise to sunset.

The prayer shawls are called the tallit , worn while reciting morning prayers as well as in the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. The tallit has special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners.

I took this photo of the man with his shofar (ram’s horn) and the one below it (through some netting up above the wall, so it’s not as clear as the rest), to show the man blowing the shofar as part of this family celebration.

I really enjoyed watching these devout Jews celebrating their sons and daughters coming of age.  It was a joyous occasion here today!

Also today, new soldiers were arriving in Jerusalem to begin their 3 year military service.  This is a land of contrasts.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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