Succot is probably Israel’s favorite Jewish holiday. Many Israelis take advantage of the reduced workweek and school vacation to go abroad. But even more use the time to travel throughout the country, attending the many festivals and entertainment activities. During the “middle days” of the holiday, when Orthodox Jews are free to travel, Israel’s roads and venues are particularly busy. Then, many strictly observant Jews are enjoying the festivities, large families in tow.
This was the first Succot that we’ve observed in our new apartment in Kfar Sava. We spiffed up our succah, which we bought when we moved to Israel in 1991, with a new “roof” and supports. As usual, our young friend Jonathan and his two small girls helped to put the succah together and decorate it. The first night of the holiday, a good time was had by twenty of us in our beautiful succah. From then on, we ate as many meals as possible there.
Usually, during these festivals Michal and I stick close to home. An exception is the ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) hike, one of which is always scheduled during Succot. This year’s hike was in Ramat Menashe, encompassing a mosaic of ecological systems that are amongst the finest in the Mediterranean region. We started at Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek (Guard of the valley), the first modern Jewish settlement (1926) in the southern part of Israel’s largest valley, the Jezreel Valley. We climbed up to a hilltop view point and then followed the trail down into the scenic valley.
We then continued up to Nahal Hashofet, crossed over a stream (I didn’t go in for a dip, but did immerse my shirt and put it back on soaking wet – aah!) and finished near to the entrance to Ein HaEmek, a small community near the expanding town of Yokneam Illit, home to many high tech companies.
A few days later we spent two days in Tel Aviv, where we had been invited by the Dan Hotel chain to check out their new LINK hotel & hub. It’s strategically and conveniently located on in the center of Tel Aviv on King Saul Boulevard, near the Sarona entertainment venue, the Tel Aviv Museum, the Opera House, and shopping. The boutique style hotel has a relaxed ambience where guests can socialize and make business and social connections. The LINK has a helpful multi-tasking 24/7 service crew which operates on an “Everyone does everything” basis. In addition, as manager Galit Dohan told us, most of the crew are young olim (new to Israel), hailing from diverse countries. The hotel offers different sized guest rooms with giant smart TVs and all the amenities one expects in a nice, new hotel. A distinctive feature of the hotel is the way internationally acclaimed photographer Daniel Siboni has curated and displayed Tel Aviv’s street art throughout the hotel (much of it for sale). The art is especially dramatic in the lobby on each floor.
I was impressed by the large downstairs lobby, which features multiple seating areas for individual or group work (or making those new connections). The target audience is not families, but young business people or others who want to enjoy the business and entertainment centers in Tel Aviv, not necessarily the beach. The appetizing Kitchen&Bar is open ‘til late,’ and there are plenty of private meeting rooms of different sizes, a pool table, and board and video games. I enjoyed the well-equipped fitness room, something missing in most – even new – hotels. The nightly rates are very reasonable for a city like Tel Aviv.
While we were in the city, we had our first chance to visit the new Steinhardt Museum of Natural History on the Tel Aviv University campus. First off, we were very pleased to find that a new underground parking facility was built adjacent to the museum. This is a welcome addition to the campus, facilitating visits to the museums and frequent campus events.
The ark-shaped museum houses 5.5 million specimens from around the world, from early human skulls to rare taxidermy pieces; it’s the biggest natural history museum in the Middle East and Israel’s national center for biodiversity studies. The new museum highlights Israel’s ecological diversity at the crossroads of the three continents, as well as the impact of urban development, climate change, and man-made devastation on the region’s ecosystems.
The museum has eight permanent exhibitions displaying thousands of items from the national natural history collections and one temporary exhibition. Traditional dioramas and innovative interactive displays spread across several floors are connected by sloped ramps and stairs.
NOTE: It’s best to make on-line reservations ahead of time because visitors are admitted only at specified times.
The next day we returned to the campus to visit the venerable Bet Hafutsot, also known as the Museum of the Jewish People, just across the street from the Natural History museum. Bet Hafutsot is nearing the end of its massive renovation, which has taken place over the last decade. The ground floor and an exhibition area above it are already completed. The original two-story exhibit halls will be completed by the end of this year. (israel21c.org)
We came to see the excellent temporary exhibit, Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World. Featuring Israeli TV and film humor, as well as a lot of American examples, the exhibit was great and had us reminiscing and laughing, especially at the American comedians of mid-20th century. There were so many film clips that it was easy to believe that 75% of American comedians of that era were Jewish.
Before leaving, we also enjoyed I’m Ready My Lord – A Display in Memory of Leonard Cohen. This smaller exhibit is a must for fans of Leonard Cohen. I also took advantage of the genealogy research area to quickly located the family tree of my paternal grandparents, who both emigrated from Galicia in the early part of the 20th century.
We had one final adventure during the Succot holiday. We joined our friends to visit the Druze village of Beit Jann. The Druze, who number about 125,000, are probably the most assimilated of all the non-Jewish minorities in Israel, especially by their numbers in the IDF and police forces.
“Nestled atop Mount Meron in northern Israel, Beit Jann has existed since at least the 16th century… Today the population hovers at above 10,000 citizens, nearly all of Druze descent. As the population of the village has grown, new structures including homes, benches, and tombstones have repurposed materials from some of the first buildings and even built on their foundations. Thanks to this recycling, the primarily white building aesthetic has been retained throughout most of the village.” (atlasobscura.com)
We stayed at a rustic (putting it nicely) B&B way up the mountain. We enjoyed the festival going on in the center of town, attended my many Jewish and Druze Israelis. It featured lots of Druze special foods, folk dancing, and locally produced goods. After trudging around town a bit, we had a great dinner at a local restaurant.
The next morning we visited a few more Druze towns and were impressed by their attractive appearance, especially compared to Arab Israeli towns in the middle of Israel. We then went to the unique city of Ma’alot-Tarshiha. In 1963, the Jewish town of Ma’alot merged with the larger Arab-populated Tarshiha and the unified town was combined to reflect both origins. The happy result is a successful mixed city, which appears quite prosperous. We headed into the Tarshiha sector to enjoy the large shuk and to find yet another restaurant. Again we scored a wonderful meal, right in the middle of the shuk, which predictably had many clothes, shoes, and housewares vendors, and lots of fruit and vegatable stalls.
After returning home we had a few more days to enjoy our succah. If you’re planning to visit Israel, Succot is one of the most exciting and rewarding times to come. For those of you who enjoy Greece, Israel is about the same distance! What’s your excuse for not coming to Israel?