16 ways Jerusalemites know Sukkot is coming
By Judy Lash Balint
JERUSALEM — Sixteen ways Jerusalemites know Sukkot is coming:
2. The tourists have landed! Overwhelmingly religious, English and French speaking, they jam the city’s take-out places and restaurants, and may be seen in packs wandering up and down Emek Refaim Street and through the glitzy Mamilla Mall talking to their friends at top volume on their cell phones.
3. Almost every non-profit group worth tits 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 without being poked in the rear a dozen times 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. Huge piles of schach (palm fronds for the roof of the sukkah) cover major city squares, and citizens are invited to take as much as they need for free.
10. The usual throngs of traditional Jews 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. 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 plastic walls. Every kosher restaurant in town has a sukkah of some kind and each boasts bigger and better holiday specials to entice customers.
12. Since the entire week of Sukkot is a national holiday you’ll have a tough time deciding which festival/event to take part in. There’s the Fringe Theater Festival in Akko; The Tamar music and arts fest at Ein Gedi; Herzliya’s Biennial for Contemporary Art and the Sounds of Childhood Festival in Holon, to name just a few.
13. Touring the country is another favorite Sukkot activity and every political group is promoting trips to “See For Yourself.” Hebron is a perennial favorite for the intermediate festival days as the Isaac Hall in the Cave of the Patriarchs that’s normally off-limits to Jewish visitors is open for the holiday.
14. Not to be left out are those tenacious Christian friends of Israel—this year the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ) will bring 5,000 members from 100 nations to attend their 31st annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. The Christian contingent dressed in costume 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. Organizers claim that the Christian event will pump $10 million into the local economy, taking up 15,000 hotel room nights during their stay. Not everyone is happy about the Feast, however. A few years ago 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. Still, last year, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin hosted a sukkah reception for the delegates at ICEJ headquarters.
15. Another prominent group of tourists set to arrive 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-somethings take place in all the major hotel lobbies.
16. 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 five years on and hardly any of them are yet living in permanent housing. Neither they nor Israelis living in and around Sderot in the south or in Northern Israel near the Lebanese border 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.
Balint is a freelance writer who blogs regularly at Jerusalem Diaries:In Tense Times