The Jerusalem Post

Grapevine: Synagogue scene

Jerusalem Great Synagogue (photo credit: MARTIN VINES MONTREAL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Jerusalem Great Synagogue

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Optimism that incoming tourism to Jerusalem would not only bounce back to pre-COVID statistics but would actually surpass them resulted in the construction of several new hotels ranging in size from small intimate boutique enterprises to large, multi-story edifices, and ranging price-wise from budget to luxury. That optimism was either premature or misplaced as evidenced by the large number of empty seats during Rosh Hashanah services at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.

During the Hebrew calendar month of Tishrei, but particularly during the High Holy Days, the Great Synagogue relies heavily on ticket purchases by foreign tourists, many of whom stay at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, directly across the road from the Great Synagogue, or at one of close to a dozen hotels within easy walking distance of the Great Synagogue.

It’s possible that a considerable number of people opted not to attend services on the first day of Rosh Hashanah because there was no shofar blowing, as the first day was on Shabbat. On the second day, attendance in the women’s gallery increased appreciably as young mothers arrived with babies in arms, and toddlers and slightly older children in tow. But the rows of empty seats in the men’s section remained unoccupied.

This was in sharp contrast with the Friday scene a month earlier when the synagogue was packed to capacity – mainly with foreign students and lone soldiers. But with the start of the academic year, the foreign students returned to their home countries or the countries in which they are studying at university.


Those people who did attend the Great Synagogue were treated to a magnificent service led by cantor Zvi Weiss with the support of the outstanding Great Synagogue choir conducted by Elli Jaffe.

The Great Synagogue (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Great Synagogue (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau delivered the sermon on the first day and could not refrain from including some aspects of the national crisis.

On the second day, Rabbi Yitzhak Aron Korf, the grand rabbi of Zvhil-Mezhbizh, who is also the chaplain of the City of Boston, delivered a sermon in English, which was devoid of any hint of current Israeli politics.

■ ONE OF the beautiful sights in this particular part of Jerusalem on the seam of Rehavia-Talbiyeh and immediate surrounds is that of people walking in all directions to and from some 25 synagogues, which include those of different hassidic sects, non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox, Sephardi, Persian, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. The atmosphere is calm. If there is any tension, it’s due to the security alerts and the fact that there is an armed guard stationed at every synagogue.

But what really spoils it all is the terrible social disease of jaywalking. On Yom Kippur, streets are almost empty of motorized traffic. But on Rosh Hashanah, traffic is quite heavy because many secular Israelis travel to nature reserves or to picnic grounds or to the beach.


But the fact that so many people on motorcycles, bicycles, and electric scooters tend to whiz across the road at breakneck speed doesn’t seem to bother many congregants, who blithely or impatiently cross the road on a red light. What is the point of going to synagogue and praying to be inscribed in the Book of Life if you play Russian roulette as soon as you leave?

You want to risk your own life – fine, but not in front of young, impressionable children. A grandmother was struggling desperately with a little boy who was throwing a temper tantrum because she wouldn’t let him cross until the light turned green. But he’d just seen adults cross on a red light, so why couldn’t he?

That same kind of adult irresponsibility was displayed by those fathers who took young sons with them to Uman in Ukraine for the traditional Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. How dare they take a child to a war zone? What could have happened if Russians had shot a missile into Uman? It would have been a lot worse than the Mount Meron tragedy.

Will Walid Abu Tayeh stay in the race for Jerusalem's mayor?

■ FOLLOWING REPORTS last week that Nazareth mayoral candidate Musaab Duchan withdrew his candidacy for mayor after he was wounded in a shooting attack at his home in late August, the question remains as to whether Walid Abu Tayeh, who bravely said three months ago that he will not be intimidated in his quest for a seat on the Jerusalem Municipal Council, will continue to run the course. There were Arab mayors of Jerusalem and Arab council members before the establishment of the state – but none since. Abu Tayeh not only wants to sit on the council but is confident of the possibility of becoming mayor, given the high ratio of Arab residents of the city who have voting rights.

Just as it was once considered that it was unlikely that a Jew would ever be mayor of Jerusalem, a similar thought in reverse applies to Arabs in the post-British Mandate era.

The first Jewish mayor was Daniel Auster, who served in the final years of the British Mandate and was the first mayor of Jerusalem following Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Since then, there have been Arab candidates for the Municipal Council, but they backed out when confronted by threats,

One who stayed the course was businessman Moussa Ayalan, who ran in 1998 but failed to get sufficient votes to earn him a place on the council.

Historically, the Arab turnout at elections has always been low, due to a belief that voting in any Israeli election was tantamount to “giving in to the occupation.”

Inspired by Ra’am MK Mansour Abbas, who has made it clear that the only reason that he is a legislator is to lobby for the rights of the Arab population, Abu Tayeh put together a slate of 15 Arab Israelis. Having Israeli citizenship gives Arabs certain rights not accorded to their non-Israeli brothers and sisters, but it does not make them Zionists.

Abu Tayeh wants to deal with issues such as collective punishment, destruction of the family homes of terrorists, elimination of Arab violence, and Jewish incursions into Arab or Palestinian property.

Anyone who objects to Arabs attaining political power should be aware that Arab violence, if not curtailed, will spread to the Jewish community, where criminal elements have already instilled fear and oppression in specific circles.

Ushpizin Festival

■ THE ANNUAL Ushpizin Festival at Confederation House is jointly conducted with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Haim Gouri Cultural Center, which was inaugurated two years ago. Gouri, who is considered one of the greatest of Israel’s contemporary poets, was born in Tel Aviv on October 9, 1923, and lived much of his adult life in Jerusalem, where he died in 2018. An event marking the 100th anniversary of his birth will be held within the context of the festival on October 1. It will be moderated by prize-winning Jerusalem-born novelist and poet Haim Be’er.