Saturday, December 27, 2008

The World's Biggest Minyan Factory

We spent Shabbos in the Germany Colony in order to spend time with visiting family. It was a really great Shabbos. It also meant spending lots of time at the world's biggest and most famous minyan factory -- the Kotel.

On Friday there were 5 of us heading to the kotel. Shortly before candle lighting we grabbed two cabs and headed for the Kotel. We had to guess how much the taxi would cost and the left overs were going to the Kotel maintenance fund. One cab cost 29 NIS and the other cost 30 NIS.

Going to the kotel is always a different experience. Different times of day draw different types of crowds and there is often some kind of special occassion. Of course there are also the large groups of tourists in bright orange hats, who probably think the whole thing is crazy. It was my first time going on a Friday night in 12 years.

The Kotel was packed. There was a long line up at security. We then went off to find a minyan. We couldn't seem to find one that was just starting and ended up joining on to one after they started Shmonei Esrei. There was a group in the middle towards the right that was singing in dancing from before the time we arrived until they were ready to start Kabbalat Shabbat. The leader of our group had choosen two tables towards the mechiza where he wanted to daven. The attmosphere was incredible. It was really hard to hear our group except for the parts we were singing out loud. It was a great experience but not my favourite type of davening.

I have always taken the route through the shuk to get to Yaffo gate. They wanted to avoid the shuk and took a different route out, through the Armenian quarter. I saw my first two Christmas trees of the year. After exiting the old city it was a short walk to the hotel where we were meeting up with more family for dinner.

This morning we had a couple of davening options. We could daven at the 8:15 minyan our host was going to or the kotel. Our group really wanted to go to the Rabbi Machlis minyan at the Kotel. The other guests for lunch woudl be davening there. It scheduled to start at 9:30. I have gotten used to Israeli style minayim that start at 8:00 and lunch is on the table by 11:00/11:30. With such a late minyan there was no way that would happen. As we were getting ready to go our hosts reminded us that they normally eat at 11:30. I was willing to go along with whatever the group decided.

We walked to the old city and entered through Zion Gate. The entrance is a sharp 90 degree turn. Our leader explained how difficult it was to navigate the tanks through this gate in 1967. As we passed through a little Toyota drove passed us on it's way out through the gate. -THUNK-. The car managed to drive into the wall. It wasn't even going fast. I guess he has no experience driving a tank or an Egged bus.

As we followed the road down to the Kotel a car had run into the closed street leading up to the Kotel in front of the parking lot. He was busy trying to manuever a tight U turn in a large car. A little Breslov kid was watching and yelling 'Shabbos' at the car. One of the two older brothers with him were telling him to stop screaming.

Security was fairly light. They just asked where we came from and if we were carrying a knife. I don't think the metal detectors were even on. It was 9:20 and there was no sign of the minyan. As we were waiting our leader and the other guest hatched out a plan (if neccesary) to join another minyan for Mussaf. Rav Machlis arrived at 9:45 and davening started right away. It was a nice davening (in the slow sense of the word). We kept moving around locations before moving to his favourite spot next to the Kotel. Before Hallel he pointed out that Chanukah is the only holiday that commemorates events that took place in Israel. The redidication of the Bet Hamikdash. We were standing a few feet from the outter wall. It was impossible not to be inspired as we sang all of Hallel.

Hallel finished at 11:20. Every other Minyan at the Kotel was either long gone or had already started Mussaf. It was 11:30 when we got to Shilishi and the decision to not to be a burden on our hosts was made. We formed our own break away minyan and went straight to Mussaf. We even had a Kohen, as not to miss out on duchanening. We managed to be done by 11:45. We made it back to our hosts at an almost reasonable hour. They had a prolonged kiddush while they waited for us.

During the morning there were a lot of jets flying south over Jerusalem. I thought this meant something had to be going on in Gaza. I was surprised because going into Shabbos the reports were the IDF was going to wait for some good weather before launching an attack. We had no idea how effective the attacks were going to be. I also saw a policeman in full riot gear stop at the Kotel for a few minutes. Overall we had a really nice Shabbos.

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