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Herzog presses for unity in holiday penitential  prayer

The Israeli president called to "build the state that was given to us after thousands of years of exile."

Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 24, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 24, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Sunday cited the liturgy from the penitential prayers recited before the High Holidays to stress the need for unity among the Jewish people.

“Loving your fellow Jew is a very big mitzvah [biblical commandment]; it’s not for naught that … in the Selichot prayers, we say, ‘We have incurred guilt, we have betrayed, etc.’ Why is it in the plural tense? Because we are all responsible for everyone,” said Herzog in an address at the Or Hahaim yeshiva in Jerusalem before the evening pre-holiday prayer service.

He spoke after a year marked by internal dispute in Israel over the government’s judicial reform initiative.

“This entire holy congregation prays for all of the people of Israel. Why do we say ‘Hear, O Israel (Shema Yisrael)‘? We don’t say ‘Hear, O Abraham’ or ‘Hear, O Moses,’ we say ‘Hear, O Israel’ since we pray for the entire nation, and this is a tremendous privilege, to pray for the entire nation,” he said.

“It requires us and all those who serve the public, and all of the leaders, to show responsibility and take steps for all of the people of Israel and to maintain the unity of Israel against its enemies, so we can build the State of Israel that was given to us after thousands of years of exile, here, in Jerusalem the holy capital of Israel,” he added.

Earlier on Sunday, authorities from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation removed the written prayers visitors had placed since Passover in the cracks of the holiest site where Jews can pray.

People of all faiths leave thousands of notes to God—known as ptakim—in the Western Wall, praying for personal success, a loved one’s health, peace in the Middle East and myriad other things.

The cleanup is done twice a year—before Passover and the High Holidays—under the supervision of the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Places Shmuel Rabinowitz.

Notes removed from the wall are buried in a Jewish cemetery on the nearby Mount of Olives. Workers are careful to respect the privacy of the prayers and do not read the notes.

Thousands of Jews will visit the Western Wall during the High Holidays and the week-long holiday of Sukkot. The High Holidays begin with Rosh Hashanah, which this year starts at sundown on Sept. 15.

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