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Monday, October 13, 2003

40,000 at the Kotel Today for the Blessing of the Cohanim

An estimated 40,000 people arrived at the Western Wall (Kotel) this morning for the semi-annual Birkat Cohanim (Priestly Blessing) prayer. Hundreds of Jews who trace their ancestry directly back to Aaron the High Priest, Moses' brother, blessed the assembled congregation - which reached almost as far back as the steps leading down to the Western Wall plaza.

The Priestly Blessing is offered every day during morning prayers in synagogues throughout Israel by whichever Cohanim happen to be there. On Pesach and Sukkot, however, it has become traditional for hundreds of Cohanim to gather at the Kotel for the occasion. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the Western Wall Rabbi, says that today's was one of the largest Birkat Cohanim ceremonies in modern history.

Hundreds of Jews ascended and visited the Temple Mount this morning, with police approval. A large contingent of the Temple Mount Faithful, however, was not permitted to visit the holy site; singing, dancing, and sounding shofarot, they were forced to turn back as they approached the Western Wall's Moghrabim Gate to the Temple Mount.

Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger greeted visitors this morning in the Western Wall plaza Sukkah.

A Klezmer festival of some 20 musicians and bands will open this evening in the Old City, and will continue tomorrow as well. Performances will take place from Migdal David (the Tower of David) to Ir David (the City of David, below and to the southeast of the Temple Mount).

For the second day in a row, tens of thousands of Jews are in Hevron, celebrating the renewed Jewish presence there with Hassidic music performances and tours of the various sites.

In Psagot this afternoon, just north of Jerusalem, a new Torah scroll will be joyously introduced into the local synagogue in memory of Rabbi Yossi Dickstein, his wife Chana, and their son Shuvael, who were murdered last year in a terrorist shooting attack, leaving nine orphans. Many hundreds of people are expected to take part.

Prime Minister Sharon will host new-immigrant soldiers in his Sukkah in the Negev today.