In his speech to the UN, that little fulminating Iranian twerp, Ahmadinejad, called us “uncivilized Zionists.” He should head over to Jerusalem to see just how uncivilized we can be around this time of year. Here are 17 ways (there are probably dozens more) that Israelis celebrate the coming Sukkot festival that has a theme that’s particularly relevant this year…
1. There’s a constant clang of metal poles and the sounds of hammering are everywhere as Jerusalem’s apartment dwellers hurry to build their sukkot and squeeze them into small balconies, odd-shaped gardens and otherwise derelict rooftops.
2. The tourists have landed! All those luxury apartments that lie deserted during 50 weeks of the year are suddenly populated and lively. Overwhelmingly religious, English or French speaking, the proud apartment-owners jam the city’s take-out places and restaurants. The well-heeled visitors may be seen in packs wandering up and down Emek Refaim Street and through the glitzy Mamilla Mall talking to friends on their I-Phones in English or French at top volume.
3. Despite the way this year’s Sukkot holiday falls out with its broken-up chol hamoed days, almost every Israeli non-profit organization worth its salt has scheduled a fund-raising and/or familiarization event for the intermediate days of Sukkot, aimed at capturing the attention of the wealthy temporary Jerusalem residents.
4. Real estate agents are taking a deep breath before their busiest week of the year as they prepare to pitch their over-priced wares to eager foreign buyers. Each of the many luxury residential building projects around town has managed to put up billboards depicting the completed construction and inviting prospective buyers for a tour of an unfinished building site.
5. You can’t get on a bus or ride the light rail without being poked in the rear by someone’s stray lulav.
6. The sweet smell of etrogim in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda is overpowering. Huge crowds descend on a lot on Jaffa Road near the market to vie for the most shapely lulav and etrog.
7. One enterprising bookstore is offering “Machzor rentals” for tourists who inadvertently left their holiday prayer books at home.
8. You’ve never seen such gaudy sukkah decorations in your life—unless you’ve been to WalMart on Christmas Eve. Kiosks manned by bearded Haredim are selling gold, green and red tinsel hangings, made in China, and exact replicas of Christmas decorations in the old country.
9. City workers have spent the last few weeks in a frenzy of tree-trimming. The municipality deposits huge piles of schach (palm fronds for the roof of the sukkah) in major city squares, and citizens are invited to take as much as they need. JNF (KKL as they’re known in Israel) offers free schach from the Ben Shemen forest, as well as a sukkah in almost every one of their major parks for the thousands of picnickers expected to pack the parks during chol hamoed.
10. Tens of thousands are expected at the Western Wall for the thrice-yearly observance of the ancient ritual of Birkat Cohanim –the Blessing by the Priests–that takes place during the intermediate days of Sukkot.
11. Hundreds more Jerusalemites and visitors will stand in line outside the official Presidential Residence on Hanassi Street in Talbieh to press the flesh with President Shimon Peres. Traditionally every Israel president opens the residence on Sukkot to greet the citizenry.
12. Like Christmas tree lots back in the US, empty city lots all over Jerusalem are taken over to sell sukkot of every size and description. Some are marketed by large companies and feature the latest space-saving technology and hardiest materials, while others are simpler affairs made of tubular piping and fabric walls. Every kosher restaurant in town has a sukkah of some kind and each boasts bigger and better holiday specials to entice customers.
13. Since the entire week of Sukkot is a national holiday you’ll have a tough time deciding which festival/event to take part in. Choose from the Alternative Theater Festival in Akko; the Haifa International Film Festival; The Tamar Music Festival at Masada and Ein Gedi; the Maayanot Festival: Bat Yam’s International Street Theater Festival; the Storytelling Festival in Givatayim and the Gush Etzion Festival to name just a few.
This is your chance to press the flesh (if you’re a male) of one of the chief rabbis too–the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar will hold court on Wednesday morning in the giant sukka near the Kotel after Birkat HaCohanim and in the evening at the beautiful renovated courtyard of the Center for N. African Jewry on King David Street, while Rabbi Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi Chief may be found at the venerable Yeshurun Synagogue on Shmuel Hanagid Street in the evening as well as at the Kotel sukka after Birkat Cohanim.
14. Touring the country is another favorite Sukkot activity and every political group is promoting trips to “See For Yourself.”
15. Not to be left out are those tenacious Christian friends of Israel—this year the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ) will bring thousands of people from 100 nations to attend their 32nd annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. The Christian contingent dressed in costumes of their country of origin will also take part in another annual Sukkot event, the Jerusalem March, where tens of thousands proudly march through several routes in the capital on October 4th.
Not everyone is happy about the Feast, however. In 2007 Israel’s Chief Rabbinate’s Committee for the Prevention of the Spread of Missionary Work in the Holy Land issued a ruling forbidding Jews from participating in the Jerusalem march organized by the ICEJ. The committee wrote in its decision, endorsed by both chief rabbis, that halacha forbids Jews to participate in any of the Christian sponsored gatherings.
16. Another prominent group of tourists on the way over are refugees from the young American frum singles scene who make an annual migration to Jerusalem from the Upper West Side for Sukkot. Discreet meetings of earnest, well-scrubbed, modestly dressed, twenty and thirty-somethings take place in all the major Jerusalem hotel lobbies. A bottle of water or diet Coke on the table next to the guy’s black hat is the give-away that it’s a date.
17. And speaking of refugees–spare a thought for those 1,700 families expelled from their homes in Gush Katif back in August 2005. More than seven years on and the majority of them are not yet living in permanent housing.
Neither they nor any other Israeli who’s listened to Ahmadinejad this week will need to be reminded of one of the essential messages of Sukkot –the flimsiness of our physical existence and our reliance on God for sustenance and shelter.
[All photos © Judy Lash Balint. All rights reserved.]