Just days away from Yom Kippur authorities at the Western Wall are reporting a sharp decline in the number of participants at prayer gatherings held at the holy site during the ten days of repentance, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, compared to previous years.
The Association of Community Rabbis, which last Thursday night held a selichot (Jewish penitential prayers) event thatfeatured senior rabbis of the Religious Zionist movement, said that the number of worshipers has plummeted.
Leading up to the event, Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, the organization’s chairman, sent a letter to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and to the interim chief of police, the Jerusalem District Police commander, and the mayor, in which he demanded increased security and reassurance to the public that the situation “should not be considered a reward for terrorism”.
“We received dozens of phone calls from people who are afraid to come to selichot in the wake of recent events,” said Rabbi Eliyahu. “I trust the police will secure all the routes leading to the Western Wall as required, and am sure that all worshipers who arrive will receive maximum security.” He urged the police to “inform the public that the remnant of our temple is secure to visit, and there are no security concerns that should stop people from visiting.”
Rabbi Uri Sherki, a participant in the event, whose son Shalom Yochai was killed in a vehicular attack in Jerusalem six months ago, said: “The amount of prayer at the remnant of our Temple is particularly high. Here are gathered all of Israel’s prayers and whole world’s. And especially when those seeking to harm us are attempting to bar us from being in Jerusalem – all the more so, we must trust the Almighty who chose the nation of Israel, and come in droves to pray, and he will not refuse them.”
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation confirmed that there was in fact a decline in the number of worshipers, but emphasized: “the depiction of the Western Wall and the roads leading to it as dangerous is erroneous. There are no confrontations at the wall or on the roads leading there. They are safe, thank God. Israeli police forces are present in high numbers, and they are not causing friction with Arabs, especially as the Temple Mount is closed during the selichot prayers.”
In a statement issued by the foundation, Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites of Israel, called on the public to take advantage of the High Holy Days and to come to recite selichot at the holy site. “These are propitious days for prayer and forgiveness,” he said. “We all pray for a happy and blessed new year, and the Almighty should protect your comings and goings now and forever.”