Thousands of Jewish worshippers prayed at the Western Wall on Monday (April 18) at a special mass “Priestly Blessing,” which takes place during the holiday of Passover, under heavy Israeli security following recent violence in Jerusalem.
Hundreds of police deployed across Jerusalem and its old city, Israeli police said, after violence at the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which erupted on Friday (April 15), raised fears about a slide back into deeper conflict.
Tensions were high in Jerusalem, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in recent weeks as this year the holy month of Ramadan coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover.
But this Passover, thousands of Jews were able to go back to the holy site after more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions reduced the number of worshippers to hundreds, sometime dozens.
The prayer is still split into two separate events, to allow for more people to attend, but there are no COVID-19 restrictions on site, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said.
The second mass prayer will be held on Wednesday morning (April 20).
The “Priestly Blessing” is carried out by members of the Jewish priestly caste, known as “Kohanim” in Hebrew.
Holding prayer shawls above their heads and covering their faces, they chant the blessing, starting with: “The Lord blesses you and keeps you”.
Kohanim are thought to be descended from the line of the biblical Aaron and are often referred to as Jewish priests because of their prominent role in worship in Judaism’s ancient Temples in Jerusalem.
The ceremony is held twice a year, during the Jewish holidays of Passover and Sukkot.
The Western Wall abuts the sacred compound known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary.