How do you know it’s Sukkot in Israel? Let’s count the ways. You know it’s Sukkot because:
1. Israeli tourism officials are hoping that the usual Sukkot tourist trade from abroad will continue despite the recent war with Hezbollah, which inconveniently occurred during vacation booking time. Israelis, meanwhile, are making a point of heading North to the many “zimmerim”– local lingo for bed & breakfast 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 is overpowering. Huge crowds descend on the parking lot near the market to vie for the best lulavs and etrogs.
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 Christmas Eve. Kiosks manned by fervently Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood are selling gold, green and red tinsel hangings, which almost seem to be replicas of Christmas decorations in the United States.
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. Throngs of Jews are expected at the Western Wall for the thrice-yearly observance of the ancient ritual of Birkat Ha’Cohanim — the priestly blessing — that takes place during the intermediate days of Sukkot.
8. Like Christmas tree lots in the United States, empty city lots all over Jerusalem are used to sell sukkahs 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 sukkah booths may be seen on balconies, rooftops and in courtyards in every neighborhood. 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 in Israel, you have a tough time deciding which festival or 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; Acre’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.” Hebron is a perennial favorite for the intermediate festival days, with a special opening of the Isaac Hall in the Cave of the Patriarchs that normally is off-limits to Jewish visitors.
This year, several groups are offering tours of northern sites hit hard by rocket fire during the war.
11. Not to be left out are Christian friends of Israel: The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem will bring 5,000 members from 80 countries to their annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Opening ceremonies this year will take place at Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea.
The Christian contingent also will take part in the Jerusalem March, another annual Sukkot event, dressed in costumes from their countries of origin.
Organizers claim the Christian event will pump $10 million into the local economy, taking up 15,000 hotel rooms during their stay.
12. Another prominent group of tourists set to arrive are refugees from the Orthodox singles scene who make an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem from Manhattan’s Upper West Side for Sukkot. Discreet meetings of earnest, well-scrubbed, modestly dressed 20-somethings take place in all the major hotel lobbies.
13. Speaking of refugees, spare a thought for those 1,700 families expelled from Gaza’s Gush Katif settlement bloc in August 2005. More than a year later, hardly any of them are living in permanent housing yet, and 1,375 former Gaza residents are still unemployed.
Neither they nor the Israelis displaced temporarily from their homes by Hezbollah’s shelling of the North 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.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.