During the times of the First and Second Temples on the Shalosh Regalim – three festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot – Jews from all over came to celebrate and worship at the Temple. It must have been a wonderfully festive and spiritually uplifting time. Now, again, many Jews come to Jerusalem for these holy days. Not quite the same without the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), but a privilege nonetheless. A special treat during one the intermediate days of Sukkot and Pesach is the Birkat Kohanim ceremony when Kohanim from all over Israel (where we now live!!) come together at the Kotel (Western Wall) for a mass blessing.
We wanted to be there and as we are blessed to have friends with homes in the Old City, adjacent to the Kotel, we were able to arrive the night before so as to be there early for this wonderful occasion. We were also blessed with mild weather this Pesach; I was told that it is generally unbearably hot. So many different types of people were there… from all walks of religious and not so religious life… Sephardim and Ashkenazim… young and old… white-skinned, olive-skinned, black-skinned Ethiopian women who stood out with their traditional garb and distinctive method of prayer… Caryn and Andy… a veritable in-gathering of the exiles.
One estimate I saw suggested that there were about 200,000 people at the Kotel Plaza. I still can’t believe we were privileged to be among them. Can you see us in the video? Andy’s toward the front, on the left side, somewhere near the Kotel in the middle of the patch of white – amongst the Kohanim who have their talaisim (prayer shawls) over their heads, and I am somewhere towards the front on the right hand side.
As is the custom, the chazan (cantor) first calls to the Kohanim who respond with a blessing thanking G-d for the opportunity to bless His nation, with love. The chazan next sings each word of the three beautiful blessings included in Birkat Kohanim and the Kohanim repeat them after him; the assembled answer “Amen” at the conclusion of each of the blessings.