Tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers descended upon Jerusalem's Western Wall on Wednesday to hear the traditional priestly blessing that is considered a hallmark of the annual Sukkot festival.
Amid a sea of raised prayer shawls and a forest of green palm branches of varying lengths that were waved during the festival service, hundreds of descendants of the priestly line of Aaron raised their hands and recited aloud three passages from the Book of Numbers known in Hebrew as the "Birkat HaKohanim."
"Yivarechecha Adonai viyishmirecha, [May G‑d bless you and guard you]," blared a voice through a public address system that reverberated throughout the Wall's open-air plaza. Hundreds of spectators – mostly children – could be seen on area rooftops overlooking the throngs.
"The aura was just amazing," said 38 year-old Emily Massry of Brooklyn, New York, who attended the event for the first time, along with three of her friends. "We felt the achdut, the unity, of so many different communities coming together."
Worshipers on the receiving end of the blessing – families with young children and scores of young adults in their 20's and 30's – could be seen gazing up at the heavens. Others had their eyes closed, while others photographed the moment with their smartphones.
Silence hovered over the masses as the blessing began and lasted nearly four minutes. The congregation, according to tradition, repeated each word uttered by the priest and said "amen" at the conclusion of each of the three blessings.
Though the priestly blessing is recited in many Israeli congregations during prayer services throughout year on the Sabbath and holidays, it is marked as a mass gathering at the Western Wall during the festivals of Sukkot in the fall and Passover in the spring.
Simchat Beit Hashoeva
According to a statement released by the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, an estimated 70,000 worshipers attended this morning's service.