My 2 1/2-3 hour final Hebrew written exam is in just two weeks, but we’ve had a two week holiday break for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. Am I home studying?? Of course not!!!! Oy va voy!!! as they say here… No, instead, we’ve been traveling. Max came home for a 5 day break, and we took off for Yerushalayim for Sukkot.
I’ve always wanted to be in the Holy City for this particular holiday. It’s one of the four great pilgrimage festivals of the Bible, and one of the most celebratory and fun. After the somber Days of Awe, Jews around the world are definitely ready to party. And Yerushalayim throws the greatest bash of all!!! People arrive from many different nations, Jew and non-Jew, just for this eight day festival of tabernacles, parades of the nations, prayers, and parties.
The day after Yom Kippur, you can hear the sound of hammering through the land as everyone rushes to build their little huts (Sukkoth is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles). The sukkahs appear on porches, on balconies, even in the streets – and not only do private homes and apartments take part, but also restaurants and cafes move their business out of doors. Some huts are fancy, decorated with tinsel, garlands, lights: others more modest. It is customary to eat all meals in the Sukkah as well as to sleep outside under the natural fiber frame to look at the stars. Even though it’s all about harvest, joy, and thankfulness, one is reminded that just like these huts, life is temporary and very fragile….
We spent Sunday morning at the Mechaneh Yehudah Shuk (bazaar/farmer’s market) amidst the bustle of the crowds shopping for the feast. I love Yerushalayim, and the shut is pretty awesome in their assortment of fresh produce (we just can’t find up here in Karmi’el), and delicacies. Right outside the shuk, was something I’d heard about for years, and really wanted to see it for myself. On Sukkoth is is traditional to procure “the four species.” The fresh branches of myrtle(hadas), willow(arahvah), and a palm branch bought separately and then bunches together, for a daily “wave offering.” The other is a yellow citrus fruit with an incredible floral fragrance. This is the etrog. And right before the holiday, there is a huge, tented, outdoor market just for this. Orthodox Jews from all over come to this market to find the perfect species. The palm branch must be completely straight and green, yet flexible. The other branches, full and fresh. And an etrog with the pitom attached to its end, and the perfect color, fragrance, and shape, with no imperfections can command a hefty sum. Procuring the right one is an art. The men come with their magnifying glasses and then barter begins. I choose my etrogs by fragrance, as I will use them in December to make jams and applesauce….
Our family was invited to several Sukkot dinners on the various nights – with both new acquaintances and old friends. One lady, who I met through social media, graciously invited us to join her family for dinner on the first night. It was friendship at first meeting! The gorgeous, urban Elisheva hails from England. We share all the same passions: cooking, design, art, spirituality. The family has four older kids, and the daughter is also in a Mechinah(pre-army leadership) – and Adi’s very best girlfriend is in the same mechinah as Max. Very small world. Both husbands are facilities engineers – and Elisheva’s brother is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met: a very intelligent, and cross between John Turturro and Sasha Baron-Cohen. The food was out of this world, incredibly fantastic, and I’ll be inviting Elisheva to do a guest blog sharing her recipes very soon!!! What a wonderful evening in her rooftop sukkah!!!
The first night of Sukkoth this year, also marked the fourth of a tetrad of lunar eclipses that have happened, coincidentally, on all the past four major Jewish holidays. We wanted to be in Jerusalem to take pictures of the blood moon (the moon goes completely red/orange) over the Old City. However, the best view would have meant going into East Jerusalem, which isn’t the safest best at this time…so, we headed back to our guest hospice on the outskirts of the city – and high ground where we had a grand view. It was worth only a few hours sleep that night!
The first day of Sukkot was a busy one for us. We spent the morning touring an old Benedictine monastery built during the Crusader period. We arrived just in time to hear the monks and nuns chanting the Mass in Gregorian plainchant. It was very meditative and peaceful, and a well-deserved break for us sandwiched between all the activity. After our visit to the monastery, we walked the streets of Jerusalem, and arrived at a dear friend’s home in the German Colony for a late afternoon lunch in their Sukkah. Max had been camp friends with one of the daughters, a beautiful, young IDF Commanding Officer who has been a counselor at Max’s summer camp in New York. They are originally from America, and made Aliyah to Israel three years ago. They have four children, 3 of whom are now serving in the Israeli army. It was a great meeting, and we can’t wait to see them again soon. As dusk descended, we made our way to the Old City, through the very upscale Mamilla Mall. Almost everyone was dressed up for the holidays, and the shops and restaurants were just beginning to open – everything had been closed for the first day Sukkot observance.
I’ve been reading lots of media coverage of the uprisings on the Temple Mount. We were a bit reticent to go to the Kotel (Western Wall Plaza) with all the hype we’d been hearing about rocks being hurled, weapons states found, and general rioting, but several people assured us it was safe after having been there that day. Celebratory, yet peaceful. Heavily guarded, and as usual, one must go through a series of checkpoints before entering the Holy site. It seems that all of the clashes and violence has happened up at the top of the Temple Mount, at the site of the Muslim Al Aqsa Mosque. These have been mostly between the rock-throwing Muslims and the police/IDF. Since last week, the mount has been completely closed off to anyone other than Muslims, and terrorists, rock-throwers, and molotov cocktail throwers will be prosecuted with the fullest of sentences. Other than that, there was no display of the slightest, and we were able to pray at the wall in peace.
What an incredible experience – the farmer’s market looks spectacular! We had a fantastic view of the blood moon eclipse also, but much earlier in the evening. We were looking at the moon together!! And later that night we had thunder and lightning – quite awesome. Good luck with your exams – I will be keeping you in my prayers!