Thousands of worshipers crowded the Western Wall (Kotel) Plaza Sunday evening for the first recital of selichot, the series of penitential prayers recited in the run up to the Jewish High Holy Days.
According to the Sephardic rite, selichot prayers are recited for the entire month of Elul, which began on Sunday. Ashkenazic Jews only begin selichot on the Saturday night (or Sunday morning) before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
In both traditions, selichot can be recited either at night or early morning, prior to the morning shacharit prayers.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are the most revered days in the Hebrew calendar, when God judges all of mankind. The month of Elul is viewed as an important period of reflection, introspection and repentance before those "days of judgement."