Neighbors welcome Shabbat together from safety of porches
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Prayer in time of corona

Neighbors welcome Shabbat together from safety of porches

Friday night sees songs and prayers ring out in the streets, as people navigate a coronavirus Sabbath without a synagogue

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Men pray outside a synagogue in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, on March 22, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Men pray outside a synagogue in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, on March 22, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Social distancing is tough, particularly when the Sabbath rolls around, when a good number of Jews, including in Israel, usually head to synagogues and community gatherings.

To deal with the challenge, this past Friday night, more than a few apartment complexes around Israel opened their windows and balconies and prayed together, for a kind of communal prayer in these days of the COVID-19 crisis.

It wasn’t necessarily a coordinated effort in each instance, although one flyer was passed around many WhatsApp groups, asking residents of different Jerusalem neighborhoods to open their windows and doors and sing together, in order to open the gates of heaven mentioned in the Friday evening prayers.

In one complex in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, residents of nine apartments met in their underground parking lot and prayed together, each unit standing in their parking spot.

They had figured out their plan on their WhatsApp group, usually used to discuss paying the gardener or keeping the garage tidy.

A flyer passed around by WhatsApp to Jerusalem residents, asking people to come to their windows and doors at the start of the Sabbath, in order to welcome the Sabbath in song and prayer (Courtesy)

There were buildings that asked residents to open their doors as they prayed together, and others that sang toward their communal courtyards. Some groupings were led by cantors, or those accustomed to leading services in their own synagogues. Others were led together, by residents and neighbors singing as one, their voices echoing throughout the building.

Comedian Revital Vitelzon Jacobs, who often posts videos about parenting, posted one about her mother, Sarah Vitelzon, who, with accordion in hand, sang Kabbalat Shabbat songs in the narrow lobby of her Tel Aviv apartment building.

יום שישי, בניין בתל אביבאמא שלי, סבתא שרה המלכהיורדת עם אקורדיון ומכניסה את השבתומכל הקומות כולם מצטרפים אליה בשירה מרגשת שרה ויטלזון ????

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Revital Vitelzon Jacobs‎‏ ב- יום שבת, 21 במרץ 2020

Chaya Kasse Valier, who lives in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot with her husband and five children, was singing inside with her family on Friday night when she heard people singing outside.

It’s a common enough occurrence in the summer, when a younger, twenty-something crowd often gathers in the alleyway downstairs from their home, and sings Kabbalat Shabbat together, said Kasse Valier.

This time, however, it was one neighbor, not someone they knew, who was singing from his porch, and others were joining in, she said.

They live on Rechov HaMadregot, the Street of the Stairs, familiar from several films and TV shows, including “Shtisel.”

Street of the Stairs in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot, where neighbors gathered at their doorways and porches to welcome the Sabbath together on Friday, March 20, 2020 (Courtesy/Avishai Teicher)

They went down and sang along with about eight other people, all very spread out along the narrow street.

Kabbalat Shabbat, as the Friday night service is known, revolves around Psalms, prayers and Kabbalist liturgy that welcome the Sabbath, sung together.

“Something about the acoustics of the street allowed you to really hear everyone,” she said. “Half the people on the street were walking dogs, smoking and humming along.”

Come,​​​​​​​​​​ my friend, to meet the bride; let us welcome the Sabbath.

Come,​​​​​​​​​​ let us go to meet the Sabbath, for it is a source of bles-
sing.​ From the very beginning​ it was ordained;​ last in creation,​
first​ in God’s plan.

For Kasse Valier, it was an emotional moment.

“I was bawling my eyes out,” she said. “All the tension was released by this knowledge that people need each other and need prayer and need to do this within the parameters. We need each other and we need community and our usual routine. Kabbalat Shabbat is a marker in the peoples’ weeks.”

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