For your bucket list: The Wall during Days of Awe

When thousands of Jews stand in front of the Western Wall during the Days of Awe, it shows “the beauty of the diversity of Judaism,” according to Israeli Rakefet Ginsburg.

During the 10 Days of Awe, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, Jews seek atonement and at the Wall worshippers can feel a tremendous sense of connection. This year, Rosh Hashanah begins Sept. 29 at sundown, with Yom Kippur on Oct. 8 at sundown.

There is a ripple effect that can be felt each night during the Days of Awe at the Wall. The crowd stands shoulder to shoulder. “Be prepared to be pushed by many, many people,” Ginsburg said. People are bussed in from all over Israel.

“Thousands and thousands of people who are different from each other feel united,” Ginsburg said.

She attended one night in 2009 and said that “in this special day, there is something beyond everything else.” It is more of a cultural experience than a religious one, she said.

“Many people don’t even pray because of the feeling of being there,” she said. One can see the diversity of people and be “exposed to different ways of praying,” she said. It is a time of forgiveness, she said, and it “gives me hope.”

Ginsburg was the shlichah – the Israel cultural emissary – with the local Jewish community and Milwaukee Jewish Federation from 2006-2009. “I always tell about Milwaukee … warm and amazing community and a special one,” she said.

Yoni Altman-Shafer, 19, native of the Milwaukee area and a graduate of Nicolet High School, took a gap year before attending George Washington University and went to Israel to study at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He was with a group of 30 Americans and 30 Israelis, before they went into the army.

He went to the Western Wall one night during the Days of Awe. He arrived around 6 p.m. There were all kinds of Jews dancing and everyone was smiling and happy, Altman-Shafer said.

It was a “crazy, beautiful experience,” he said.

This was Altman-Shafer’s fourth time in Israel, and he said he has an “undying connection” to Jerusalem. Being a part of the Days of Awe at the Wall has given him a stronger connection to Israel that is not related to religion or politics, he said.

If you’re thinking about participating in the Days of Awe, Ginsburg said “be ready to be part of something very, very big and crowded.” It is a “special time to know each other better” she said, and it is “meant to open your heart and mind to ask for forgiveness.”