In recent years, Jerusalem cultural institutions have seized upon the trend and have offered their own takes on the tradition, with singers rocking out to old sorry laments, tour guides taking curious onlookers from around the world through the courtyards of the city's synagogues for a peek at the chanting faithful, and lecturers offering insights into practices and customs. This year marks a continuation to the trend, with the offerings around town being more numerous and more varied than ever.
The Tower of David Museum recently held a tour of slichot prayers around the Old City, packaged together with its Night Spectacular light show to thematically argue for the connection between the prayers and history of the Jerusalem of Jewish longing. The Bible Lands Museum also recently paid homage to the custom with a special Slichot concert as part of its Saturday night music series.
On September 2, the Andalusian Orchestra brings its nationwide Adon Haslichot tour to Beit Shmuel for a concert, and, almost two weeks later on September 14, the Old Train Station adds to its already packed summer lineup yet another Adon Haslichot-entitled event, though the exact details on the performance are unconfirmed. Two days later, Safra Square is also set to host a municipal Adon Haslichot event, with an orchestral ensemble and solo vocalists of renown.
But by far the granddaddy of Jerusalem's "slichotourism" scene is Beit Avi Chai, which hosts its Piyyut Festival for the third straight year (seasonal slichot essentially exist as a sub-category of piyyut, Judausm's wider canon of para-liturgical poems). The festival, which celebrates the growing popularity of slichot and their attendant liturgy, features four days of concerts and events during the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the slichot scene hits a fever pitch.
GoJerusalem.com last spoke with Yair Harel (pictured, with drum), who is directing the Piyyut Festival, ahead of his New Jerusalem Orchestra's performance at the Israel Festival in June, where piyyut's mainstream appeal was framed in the context of the "world music" phenomenon. But the popularity of slichot as a Jerusalem "tourist attraction" is altogether different from "world music" in terms of the way it appeals to the general public.
When it comes to Beit Avi Chai's Piyyut Festival, Harel is highly ambitious. "Making piyyut something that's alive and relevant to the general public is one thing," he says. "But to do it in a way that honors the richness and quality of the traditional culture - we don't want to lose it."
The festival features a diverse cross section of voices, ideas and of course, piyyutim. The lineup includes choirs from European, North African and Middle Eastern streams of Judaism, cantors from around Jerusalem and music from the Jewish communities of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the Balkans, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere.
"These are people who can appreciate this quality but build on it in a respectful way," Harel says of the various artists performing, who range from backgrounds in Eastern ethnic music, classical and even jazz. He also says almost every performance will be involve some sort of premier.
The festival also showcases a uniquely Jerusalem flavor, with a huge concert at the Jerusalem Theatre in conjunction with the Israeli Music Celebration, a mainstream contemporary-classical festival, and a concert outside the Kurdish Barashi synagogue in Nachlaot that will give participants a real feel for the prayers in their natural setting. Workshops on understanding and writing piyyutim are also on tap.
"This is not a living museum. It is maintaining," Harel says. He believes that the piyyut tradition has timeless appeal, because it is "built layer after layer - in a way that's connected to the entire spectrum of Jewish life - prayer, family, the nation."