Shavuot on Mount Zion - guitar
Shavuot on Mount Zion - guitarCredit: Ruth Read

Hundreds of people camped out in tents and sleeping bags on the top of Mount Zion for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot over the weekend.

The neighborhood is located just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is home to the site called the Tomb of King David the Diaspora Yeshiva, Israel's first Holocaust museum called the Chamber of the Holocaust, the grave of Oskar Schindler of Schindler's List fame, Dormition Abbey and several large churches. 

The barren hilltop near the Tomb of King David complex was the site of the Shavuot services and meals. Food and drinks were provided without charge. Sponsors donated the money for the event. This year, lectures in English took place.

Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals in which the Jewish people traveled to Jerusalem to the Holy Temple, as mandated in the Torah.

Today, in reunited Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands visit the Western Wall each year for the traditional all night Torah study and this year was no different.

Jerusalem's City of David archeological site and the Davidson Center were open for free during the day.

On Sunday night, after the holiday in Israel ended, a kumzitz with singing and dancing took place on Mount Zion. Shimon and Batsheva Sheleg, the husband and wife who started the annual gathering spoke to Arutz Sheva about the holiday.

Click here for mp3 interview.

"Tonight is the yarzheit of David HaMelech [King David]," Batsheva Sheleg stated as she stood in the makeshift kitchen where volunteers shifted in and out to bring fresh fruit and tea. "And so we came here to party with David HaMelech." The sound of guitars, drums, shofars and singing could be heard in the background as Sheleg described how she and her husband started the gathering ten years ago with a group of about eight people.

Before they were married, her husband came to Mount Zion on late on Shavuot night and found it empty. His wife described how he lay down under the stars and dozed off. When he woke up, he was covered by a blanket. An elderly couple had given him the blanket to keep him warm. The elderly gentleman he met then gave him a blessing for marriage and said that he would return to the site one day to celebrate with a big communal meal.

"A year later we got married," Batsheva continued. "When I was pregnant, we didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl, but my husband said he knew were going to have a boy and he would name him David." Sure enough they had a boy and the baby was born on Shavuot day, the same birthday of King David. "Since then it's been a tradition to come here. Every year it grows with more and more people." she stated. 

When asked is the event is sponsored by any specific organization or synagogue, Sheleg stated,"no, we're Jews. You're Jewish? You're with us. We don't care. Every different kind of stream is here." She expressed happiness that different types of people joined together for the celebration.

Her husband Shimon Sheleg looked tired but happy after a long night of organizing things. When asked for a comment, he simply stated, "we want the whole world to know that Mount Zion is not desolate." The reference was to the Biblical verse in the Book of Lamentations that "Mount Zion lay desolate."

Yaakov Lipon was another organizer of the celebration. Employed as a filmmaker and video editor, Lipon grew up in the Mount Zion area and is a current resident. "The future of the neighborhood is not 100 percent known," he stated, "but we do know that Har Tzion [Mount Zion] is where the redemption comes out from." He quoted the Book of Obadiah which translated from Hebrew states, "The redeemers come forth from Mount Zion. "That's where everything is going to start." Lipon commented. "We are on a good path and the future is beautiful."

The English speaking contingent was organized by Yitzchok Meir Malek of the Jewish Unity Project together with the assistance of Gabe Crane of the Olam Habah organization. Crane spoke to Arutz Sheva from a colorful tarped-off area about the all-night study sessions. "We had a couple of hundred people coming through the tent," he stated. "We're bringing people together. We had a very diverse and eclectic group of speakers."

One lecturer spoke about his trip to the Amazon rain forest and how it related to his Judaism. Another discussed the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Israel's first chief rabbi. Another talked about the kabbalistic work, Sefer Yetzirah. At about 4:00AM a teacher gave a workshop on spirituality and meditation. At about 5:30AM several of the participants went to the nearby pool of Shiloach, a natural spring which was used by King Hezekiah. 

Crane said they were planning future events for other Jewish holidays as well. He said the evening was a way to "connect to one's Jewish roots and gain a sense of this one great story in which we are all participating."

Shimon and Batsheva Sheleg, organizers of the event.
Dancing with the Torahs on Sunday night after the holiday ended in Israel.
Musicians with guitar, mandolin, and pan flute.
Tents dotted the hilltop. In the background the bright city lights can be seen in the background.
Women playing tambourines.

Photo credits: Ruth Read.