The air is balmy yet cool — the kind of Sukkot night where you pity your friends and relatives back in the USA, huddled for warmth in their puffer coats. My heart is light as I feel my daughter’s firm grasp in mine and we skip towards the large amphitheater in anticipation of our neighborhood’s annual Chol Hamoed concert. As we near the gate, a boy asks us to present our free tickets.
Oops. We don’t have them.
My girl and I exchange glances. The boy motions further back, to the bus stop we just passed, where we can supposedly obtain entry cards. We quickly change directions and head toward the depot, but it’s empty.
The park is already filled with crowds of people; the intoxicating smell of popcorn mixed with cotton candy tickling our noses.
Worry flits across my daughter’s face. At 7 years old, this is her first concert, and if a teenage boy doesn’t allow us in, well, who are we to argue?
“Come, Huvs,” I say with a determined smile. “I know of another way in!”.
And then we are running, back to where we came, to the dark, tree-lined edge of the open air venue. We pass an old man selling glow sticks, and, in a last ditch attempt to comply, ask if he knows where the girl is handing out tickets. He shrugs and we move along.
Down below, at the bottom of the ravine, I spot a hole in the metal gate surrounding the Ampi. I motion to my girl to follow my lead as we crouch towards our descent. We slide onto a boulder, and gripping each other for support, make our way — unconventionally — into the park. We giggle as we skid and grab hold of sharp twigs and weeds to steady ourselves, digging our heels into the soft earth.
Relieved to finally be on sturdy ground, we laugh conspiratorially as we reach the bottom of the steep valley and playfully dust each other off. Hand in hand, we excitedly rush toward the partition in the gate, the music pounding in our ears and the strobe lights blinding as we approach the back of the stage.
Suddenly, a cop blocks our path.
“No entry from here, girls” he declares. “Please go around to the main entrance.”
We stammer something about not having found tickets, and making our cutest faces, ask if he can he please let us in just this once, but to no avail.
We resume our hike around the arena, defeated but still in good spirits. After all, a clandestine mother-daughter adventure really boosts your morale! At long last, we find the correct opening, and make our way through the throngs of dancing teenagers.
The bass pulses and joy is palpable throughout. As I am led by my confident, beautiful daughter to find the perfect spot for a good stage view and ample boogie room, my thoughts travel back 14 years ago, to this very amphitheater, on this exact date.
* * *
At 16 years old, I had just moved to Israel with my family. Plunged into high school in a foreign language, and painfully missing the friends and familiarity of back home, I grudgingly obliged when a new classmate invited me to the city’s yearly Sukkot music festival — an outdoor concert with both new and well-known singers. I can still feel the damp ground under my knees as I sat in the dark with people I’d never met, listening to bands I’d never heard.
The thrill of seeing a friendly face never came — and I was engulfed by the loneliness of watching my one new friend enthusiastically greet her old ones. There I was, awkwardly on the side, feeling miserable, and not understanding a word being spoken. I longed for the close-knit friendship of my hometown, my crew, the signature exuberant wave, shriek, and hug of a teenage girl hailing her friends. I can still taste the bitterness and longing as I yearned for the confidence to dance the night away and laugh about nothingness.
I eventually swallowed the lump in my throat and went home, but every year anew, I’d attend that ShemeshFest to try and make new memories. Slowly, I met friends, and technically had a group to go with, but still felt apprehension every time I stepped onto those grounds for the annual show. The sparse grass, straw mats, and floodlights held such powerful memories of my early struggles in this land.
“Mommy! Look! Abba’s here!”
I am shaken from my reverie by my daughter, stopped mid-dance and grinning as my husband makes his way towards us from the Hatzalah ambulance he’s assisting with nearby.
He lifts our firstborn onto his strong shoulders, and grabs my hand in his. Together, we walk towards the joyful audience, my happiness finally matching theirs. I have arrived.
Ve’samachta Be’chagecha ושמחת בחגך