Photo Credit: The Western Wall Heritage Foundation
The Kotel on Yom Kippur eve, Sept. 26, 2020

About 200 worshipers participated in the Central Slichot service on Saturday night, which was held at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. The event was held under strict restrictions, due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In an ordinary year, the number of worshipers in this annual event reaches at least one hundred thousand, but this year, following the Health Ministry’s guidelines and the increase in the number of sick and dead from the pandemic, it was decided to hold the event in a limited format, in capsules (standalone groups of up to 25 participants), and under strict restrictions on the number of worshipers.

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Israeli Jews are preparing for the Yom Kippur fast which will begin on Sunday before sunset and will last 25 hours. It’s the first time many Jews around the world will be spending most of the day praying alone at home.

Police clash with protesters outside PM Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, September 26, 2020.

Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators arrived on Saturday night in convoys of vehicles in Balfour Street, in front of the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, to continue the protest against Benjamin Netanyahu. Police expanded the area allocated to the demonstration to allow said demonstrators to keep their distance from one another.

There were also demonstrations in other centers, including hundreds who showed up in Habima Square and Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, and at intersections and highway overpasses around the country.

Police handed out fines to demonstrators who allegedly did not maintain the legal social distance or failed to wear a face mask.

But police did not attempt to limit the number of demonstrators, regardless of where they were standing, since the Knesset had not yet approved the amended Corona Law restricting demonstrations.

In addition to the large convoy of cars heading for Balfour Street, hundreds of protesters in their vehicles drove together in a demonstration organized by the Quality of Government movement in front of the prime minister’s home in Caesarea. The movement’s chairman, Dr. Eliad Shraga, said: “There is no way to resolve the corona crisis without the public’s trust and Netanyahu has lost the public’s trust. He is immersed up to his neck in his trial and therefore the good of the state is for Netanyahu to vacate his seat immediately. There is no other option.”

This point will likely be taken up by the High Court of Justice after the start of Netanyahu’s trial in January 2021, because it will surely be bombarded by petitions claiming that a prime minister can’t spend three days a week in court and still run the country.

Naturally, this point will be decided by an even higher court starting Sunday night.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation placed ushers who enforced the social distancing and the wearing of masks during Saturday night’s prayer at the Western Wall, which could have been imitated by volunteer demonstrators.

Saturday night’s event at the Kotel was attended by a long line of rabbis and public figures, including the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef and Rabbi David Lau, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Places Shmuel Rabinovich, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, and Minister of Religions Yaakov Avitan.

The less affluent worshipers who were allowed to participate were Jews living in the Old City, whose one kilometer away from home still lands them in the Kotel plaza.

Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Places Shmuel Rabinovich said that “ahead of the Days of Awe and in the shadow of the Western Wall, the remnant of our Temple, Jews from all sectors, from all factions and all denominations unite to say Slichot every year, in an exciting and powerful prayer.”

He added that “this year, the entire nation is begging for healing, and longing for a solution. The people of Israel have always known how to unite in times of crisis – and this year, too, we are all together, we will unite and ask for mercy, on ourselves and the whole world.”

We really should. As of Sunday morning, there have been 5,723 new verified coronavirus patients, based on 43,499 tests obtained Saturday. They include 719 patients whose condition is severe, out of whom 199 are on respirators. The current death count since the outbreak of the pandemic in Israel is 1,439.

The protest groups Crime Minister, No Way, Wake Up Israel, The Pink Front, and The Democrats issued a combined statement saying: “The failure of the Corona is the failure of the Yom Kippur War of 2020, which has wreak social, health and economic catastrophes on Israel. Only Netanyahu is to blame and he is now trying to eliminate democracy. He is obsessed with demonstrations in Balfour because they expose the lies he is trying to hide and the fact that he has abandoned the citizens of Israel. Tonight’s demonstrations are an act of emergency saving of lives (pikuach nefesh) for our democracy and the future of our children.”

And they concluded rather cleverly: “On the eve of Yom Kippur, the citizens of Israel say to Netanyahu: You have sinned before us!”

The weather is not making it easy for Israelis to fast this year. After an unusually cool weekend with even a few raindrops here and there, the fast will be held in a heatwave. Monday will see a heat increase in the afternoon. Long stays outdoors is not recommended. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine how Jews will survive this heavy heat when wearing both a white kittel (cotton robe) and a woolen tallit (it’s definitely time to ditch the jacket).

The official instructions from the Health Ministry stipulate that it is only allowed to pray in places that are no more than one kilometer from one’s place of residence.

In an open space, prayer is permitted:
In fixed capsules of up to 20 people.
While maintaining a distance between the capsules using physical marking.
Maintaining the width of one empty seat’s distance between people who do not live together.
No food service.

In a closed structure prayer is permitted:
With seating in complexes in permanent capsules (capsule size determined by the square footage as defined in the traffic lights plan).
Placing nylon partitions between the enclosures and maintaining a distance between the enclosures.
Keeping the distance of two empty chairs between people who do not live together.
Placing a sign with the number of worshipers allowed, the size of the place, and operating rules.
No food service.

Note that in both cases, outdoors and indoors alike, the Health Ministry recommends against holding a kiddush on Yom Kippur.

Lechayim.

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