Burger King Sukkah on Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street
by Judy Lash Balint www.jta.org
October 3, 2006
1. Tourism officials are keeping their fingers crossed this year that the usual Sukkot tourist trade from abroad will continue despite this summer's war that inconveniently occurred during booking time. Israelis, meantime, are making a point of heading up north to the many "zimmerim"--local lingo for B & B accommodation--that lost so much business during the war.
2. You can't get on a bus without being poked in the rear a dozen times with someone's stray lulav.
3. The sweet smell of etrogim in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda (Yehuda Market) is overpowering. Huge crowds descend on the parking lot near the market to vie for the best lulav and etrog.
4. One enterprising bookstore is offering "Machzor rentals" for tourists who inadvertently left their holiday prayerbooks at home.
5. You've never seen such gaudy sukkah decorations in your life---unless you've been to Wal Mart on Xmas eve. Kiosks manned by bearded Haredim in Meah Shearim are selling gold, green and red tinsel hangings---exact replicas of Xmas decorations in the Old Country.
6. 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.
7. The usual throngs of traditional Jews are expected at the Western Wall for the thrice-yearly observance of the ancient ritual of Birkat Cohanim--Blessing by the Priests--that takes place during the intermediate days of Sukkot.
8. Like Xmas 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 material, while others are simpler affairs made of tubular piping and plastic walls. The Sukkot booths may be seen on balconies, rooftops and in courtyards in every neighborhood of the city. Every kosher restaurant in town has one and each boasts bigger and better holiday specials to entice customers.
9. 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 New Age Bereishit Festival at Dugit beach; The Tamar music and arts fest at the Dead Sea; Acco's acclaimed Fringe Theater Festival and a revival of the Carlebach Festival at Mevo Modi'in, to name just a few.
10. Touring the country is another favorite Sukkot activity and every political group is promoting trips to "See For Yourself." Hevron is a perennial favorite for Chol Hamoed (intermediate festival days) with a special opening of the Isaac Hall in the Cave of the Patriarchs that's normally off-limits to Jewish visitors. This year, several groups are offering tours of northern sites hard bit by Katyusha fire during the war.
11. Not to be left out are those Christian friends of Israel--the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem will bring 5,000 members from 80 nations to attend their annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Opening ceremonies this year will take place at Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea.
The Christian contingent will also take part in another annual Sukkot event, the Jerusalem March, dressed in costume of their countries of origin.
Organizers claim that the Christian event will pump $10 million into the local economy, taking up 15,000 hotel room nights during their stay.
12. Another prominent group of tourists set to arrive are refugees from the young 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.
13. And speaking of refugees--spare a thought for those 1,700 families expelled from their homes in Gush Katif in August 2005. Hardly any of them are living in permanent housing and 1,375 former Gush Katif residents are still unemployed. Neither they nor the Israelis displaced temporarily from their homes during the Hezbollah shelling will need to be reminded of one of the essential messages of the Sukkot holiday--the flimsiness of our physical existence and our reliance on God for sustenance and shelter.