Thousands at Western Wall for priestly blessing, with prayers for hostages’ return

Some 30,000 worshipers attend semi-annual ceremony as organizers add special text for the release of those in Hamas captivity

  • Thousands of Jewish worshipers attend the priestly blessing ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on April 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
    Thousands of Jewish worshipers attend the priestly blessing ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on April 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
  • A group of Jewish worshipers recite the Passover priestly blessing at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 25, 2024.(Menahem Kahana/AFP)
    A group of Jewish worshipers recite the Passover priestly blessing at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 25, 2024.(Menahem Kahana/AFP)
  • Father of Hamas-held hostage Eliya Cohen holds sign with his missing son's photo as he attends the Passover priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on April 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
    Father of Hamas-held hostage Eliya Cohen holds sign with his missing son's photo as he attends the Passover priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on April 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
  • Thousands of Jewish worshippers gather at the Western Wall for the Passover priestly blessing in Jerusalem's Old City on April 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
    Thousands of Jewish worshippers gather at the Western Wall for the Passover priestly blessing in Jerusalem's Old City on April 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
  • Israeli border police tightly patrol the street separating the Jewish and Muslim Quarters of Jerusalem's Old City as thousands of Jewish worshipers convene at the Western Wall for the Passover priestly blessing. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
    Israeli border police tightly patrol the street separating the Jewish and Muslim Quarters of Jerusalem's Old City as thousands of Jewish worshipers convene at the Western Wall for the Passover priestly blessing. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Thousands of Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall recited a special prayer Thursday for the return of hostages held by Hamas, during the traditional priestly blessing ceremony held at the site on Passover.

The parents of two hostages attended the event in Jerusalem.

The priestly blessing, known in Hebrew as “Birkat Kohanim,” is held semi-annually on the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot.

Male descendants of the priestly class traditionally chant the benediction while raising their hands and wrapping themselves in their prayer shawls, in order to bless the congregants present.

Sigalit Cohen, born to such a family, told Kan news that she came to the Western Wall to pray for the return of her son Eliya, who was taken captive by Hamas on October 7, and is likely “unable to recite the priestly blessing [in Gaza].”

“Eliya planned to propose to his girlfriend on the balcony in front of the Western Wall,” she said. “I hope that this prayer will reach [the hostages] in Gaza, will strengthen them there, and God willing, they will return.”

Father of Hamas-held hostage Eliya Cohen, fourth from the left, holds a sign with his missing son’s photo as he attends the Passover priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The family of Segev Kalfon, who was abducted by Hamas from the Supernova rave, was also present and stood with Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch and other prominent rabbis on the balcony overlooking the vast crowd.

In addition to a special prayer for the hostages, Chief Rabbi of the Israel Police Rami Berachyahu led worshippers in praying for the Israeli army, police and other security forces in the context of the ongoing war.

Near the entrance to the Western Wall, some elderly Orthodox Jews sat on the steps, shaking tzedaka (charity) boxes and requesting charity from passersby, while others sold flags depicting the ancient temple in Jerusalem.

After the blessing ended, Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef led the crowd in a continuation of the daily morning prayer.

The top rabbis concluded the event by singing in unison “Acheinu,” a medieval Jewish prayer calling for the release of captives, which has become a symbol of the hostages’ plight since October 7.

Over 30,000 people attended the ceremony, according to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a subsidiary of the Prime Minister’s Office that organizes the event twice a year.

In preparation for the massive influx of Jewish worshipers at the site, police deployed widely throughout the Old City. Home to many holy sites imbued with religious significance, the Old City of Jerusalem is policed quite heavily on a regular basis, and often becomes a flashpoint of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli border police tightly patrol the street separating the Jewish and Muslim Quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands of Jewish worshipers convene at the Western Wall for the Passover priestly blessing. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

The Western Wall is revered in Jewish tradition due to its proximity to the location of the two ancient Jewish temples. The site is part of the Temple Mount complex, which also houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.

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