Sukkot, arguably the most colorful of Jewish holidays, was met here with warmth and infectious goodwill.
Immediately after last week’s Yon Kippur fast, hundreds of thousands of Israeli families began to build their sukkahs on terraces and roofs, in gardens and in parking lots.
They were joined by the larger hotels, which participate in an annual competition for the best-decorated sukkah.
And for those Israelis who really have the travel bug still want to eat their meals in a traditional sukkah, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the fervently religious Shas Party, offered a solution:
The rabbi issued a religious ruling allowing travelers to build a sukkah in the back of their truck, as long the bed of the truck did not have a roof.
They could even eat while the vehicle was moving, the rabbi ruled.
By far the busiest spot in Jerusalem before the holiday was the fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim.
Closed to traffic, the shtetl-like neighborhood attracted tens of thousands of religious men – and some women – in search of the perfect lulav and etrog, two of the traditional “four species” of seasonal fruit and vegetation that form part of the Sukkot observance.
The streets were so clogged Saturday night and Sunday that it was nearly impossible to move through the crowd in Mea She’arim.
Hundreds of vendors hawked the four species, as well as sukkah decorations.
As always, and rather incongruously, the decorations being sold included strings of multicolored lights, still in their original Christmas packaging, as well as Christmas tree tinsel.
There was, however, a new product: tinsel with tiny golden Jewish stars.
There were other signs of the changing times in the neighborhood: Although residents of Mea She’arim shy away from such things as televisions and secular newspapers, they evidently have no qualms about cellular phones.
Another newcomer to the neighborhood is a popular computer software store called Torah Scholar, which sells Jewish-related software such as “Talmud Master” and “Family Bible Rhymes.”
Among those who had come to Mea She’arim were many Americans. “We come here every year,” said Barbara Nordlicht, a visitor from Long Beach, N.Y. “It’s absolutely fantastic. This is the only place in the world where the spirit of the holiday is expressed like this.”
“I’m attracted to the noise, the bedlam,” said Nordlicht’s husband, Jules, shouting to make himself heard. “The chaos might keep other away, but I think it just adds excitement to the holiday.”