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On a Wing and a Prayer

Michal Eisikowitz

As the sun is about to set, Jews around the world stop in their tracks for a 15-minute prayer break. In the middle of a court case? A million-dollar deal? Bagging bargains in the shuk? Resourceful individuals have created vibrant Minchah minyanim in the most unusual places. Where did you daven Minchah today?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

bridgeMachaneh Yehudah, Jerusalem

It’s the building with the century-old sundial, but Rechov Yaffo 92 in Jerusalem is hardly a relic of the past: with approximately 1,300 Jews crossing over its rickety threshold to daven Minchah each day, it’s a pounding, reverberating place of prayer — the official minyan factory of Machaneh Yehudah.

Built in 1917 by Shmuel Levy, a Russian Jewish tailor living in the United States and active on behalf of immigrants in Jerusalem, the centrally located structure was originally meant to serve as a welcoming, comfortable hostel for olim, a sort of merkaz klitahlong before the days of the Jewish Agency. At four stories high, it was then the tallest building outside the walls of the Old City, towering over the hovels of Nachalas Shivah and Meah Shearim, and generating much hubbub in the still-underdeveloped area.

Levy designated the first floor as a vasikin minyan — hence its name, Zoharei Chamah — and the room immediately became a gathering place for pious, early-rising Jews of all origins. On the fourth-floor facade, the Russian tailor commissioned self-taught astronomer and talmid chacham Rav Moshe Shapiro to create a first-of-its-kind complex clock system, including a 16-foot sundial that enabled all of Jerusalem’s gabbaim to determine haneitz and shkiyah times without having to trek out to the peaks of Har HaZeisim and Bayit Vegan.

Legend has it that Rav Shapiro became so sought-after for his astronomical prowess that the ruling sheikh insisted he build a similar sundial on Har HaBayis — even offering to provide servants to carry the rav on their shoulders so he wouldn’t transgress the prohibition against stepping foot on the holy place. Ultimately, under threat of death, the devout astronomer was forced to flee to Petach Tikvah, where he lived the remainder of his life in hiding — and never merited to see the hills of Jerusalem again.

Today, a century later, his sundial is still accurate to within 15 minutes — and the waves of worshippers inside haven’t ceased.

“You’ll see people there who you wouldn’t dream would be davening,” says Rabbi Yisrael Gellis, a tenth-generation Yerushalmi and frequent visitor to the buzzing shul. “The simple, sincere, masorati Yidden — they come in droves, closing up their fruit and vegetable stalls at shkiyah and reverently making their way across the street.”

Rabbi Gellis notes that there is no set nusach in this melting pot of traditions.

“The baal tefillah chooses the nusach,” he says. “You’ll have a chassid at the amud while the crowd is Teimani — and no one cares. In this place, the nation davens together.”

Fittingly, the current rav of the shul is Rav Avraham Levin, grandson of the legendary Rav Aryeh Levin ztz”l, whose expansive heart and unrestrained love for all Jews has become an undisputed paradigm.


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