Pinsteps. The Beit El Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem
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We find ourselves in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, steeped in deep history. In front of us, the Hurva Synagogue stands as a symbol of the quarter's revival after its massive destruction by Jordanian forces during the Six-Day War. The meticulous restoration of Beit El Street and its buildings has breathed new life into them since 1967, carefully preserving and reinstating historical institutions like the Beit El Yeshiva, which have been integral to the Old City for centuries.

The Beit El Synagogue, also known as "Beit El Yeshiva - The Kabbalists' Nest" or "Congregation of the Pious", was established in 1737 in the Old City of Jerusalem by Rabbi Gedaliah Hayon, who immigrated from Turkey. Originally named "Midrash Hasidim", it quickly became a renowned centre for studying Kabbalah. The yeshiva served not only the locals of Jerusalem but also attracted students from Jewish communities worldwide, including Rabbi Abraham Gershon of Kitov, the brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov.

After Rabbi Gedaliah Hayon's death, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi, also known as the Rashash, one of the early Yemenite immigrants, took over as the head of the yeshiva. Initially serving as a sexton, his humility masked his profound Torah knowledge until his true scholarly prowess was recognized. Following his tenure, the leadership of the yeshiva was assumed by his student, Rabbi Yom Tov Algazi, and later by two of his sons.

Despite the restrictions on private entities sending emissaries, this institution was granted permission to send its representatives to Jewish communities in the Diaspora. After the War of Independence, the yeshiva was reestablished by Rabbi Ovadia Hadaya in the Yefe Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Following the Six-Day War, Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz reestablished an independent branch in the Old City. Today, the yeshiva is located on Rashi Street in Jerusalem, continuing its long-standing tradition of deep Kabbalistic study and influence.

The scholar Gershom Scholem wrote in 1941 about Beit El and its prayers: "Beit El... even today, as I write these lines, completely 'modern' people in their thinking can derive inspiration from observing Jewish prayer in its most sublime form."

Also, the writer S.Y. Agnon wrote about the synagogue in his story "Before the Wall": "About one house of prayer, I will set my words and say something. I will not tell great wonders but what I have seen there. Beit El is the name of the synagogue of the Congregation of the Pious, the Concentrated Sect. On the tenth of Av, before noon... I came there for the first time. The house was empty, and household items were covered with sheets, prepared to honour the 'Comforting Sabbath' after the ninth of Av.

One year, on Yom Kippur, I prayed there from evening to evening. I see you, Leah, amazed at that man who came to pray with the saints of the Supreme God. I will tell you, and not hide from you, this wonder was also wondrous above, when they heard the prayer of the last one in Israel amidst the blessing of the righteous and the pious, the Holy Community of Beit El."

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Evgeny Praisman
Jewish Quarter and The Davidson Archaeological Park, Jerusalem

The Jewish Quarter and The Davidson Archaeological Park in Jerusalem offer a remarkable and profoundly engaging journey into the city's past and vibrant present.

As soon as you enter the Jewish Quarter, located in the southeastern sector of the walled city, you are immediately met with a fusion of ancient history and living culture. The area is teeming with synagogues, schools, and archaeological treasures that attract scholars, tourists, and religious pilgrims worldwide.

The narrow, winding, stone-paved streets are filled with shops selling religious artefacts, artwork, jewellery, and traditional Jewish foods. Historic sites like the Hurva Synagogue, an architectural marvel restored to its former grandeur, and the Four Sephardic Synagogues, each with its unique history and style, are crucial stops.

Just a short walk away, The Davidson Archaeological Park, also known as the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, reveals the city's history layer by layer. Overlooking the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the park displays remnants from the First and Second Temple periods.

One of the standout features of the park is the Southern Wall excavation site. Here, you can see the steps pilgrims used to climb to reach the Temple Mount and the Hulda Gates, once the main entrance to the Temple compound.

Robinson's Arch, the ruins of an impressive ancient staircase that once led to the Temple Mount, is another must-see in the park. You can also explore the Umayyad palaces, evidence of the rich Islamic history of Jerusalem.

The Davidson Center, located within the park, houses a museum where you can learn more about the Temple Mount's history through interactive exhibits and 3D virtual reconstruction models. A film shown at regular intervals helps visitors understand the significance of the Temple Mount in both Jewish and Muslim traditions.

In addition to its historical and archaeological significance, the park also offers breathtaking views of the Old City and the Mount of Olives, making it a popular spot for contemplation and reflection.

This unique combination of rich history, spiritual significance, and vibrant, ongoing culture makes visiting the Jewish Quarter and The Davidson Archaeological Park a genuinely immersive and unforgettable experience.

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Evgeny Praisman (author)
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