SAVORING SUKKOT IN ISRAEL
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
Savoring the joy of Sukkot preparations and the entire holiday experience from start to finish is one of the greatest spiritual pleasures in the world, especially if one lives in Eretz HaKodesh. Celebrating Jewish holidays in the Diaspora is meaningful but it cannot compare to the depth of joy and vitality that is connected with celebrating holidays in our national homeland, especially the holiday of Sukkot. From purchasing the Sukkah, to buying the decorations, to purchasing food, one can feel the joy permeating the Jewish people. An energetic spirit of unity and happiness fills the air as shoppers meander through the thoroughfare of stores and shops and outdoor markets to purchase their goods. One can get spiritually high with the smiles and good-will that greets each encounter. It is so powerful to watch families shopping together, laughing and moving with a new infused soulful rhythm. It gets me excited, brings me joy and makes me laugh out-loud. The air seems to be infused with the fragrance of freshly laundered clothes, as we emerge from the Yom Kippur experience newly cleansed.
Sukkot, the festival of booths, commemorates the time period when the Israelites lived in the desert in booths, i.e., temporary dwellings, after the Exodus from Egypt, on their way to the Promised Land. It is the 3rd holiday celebrated in the month of Tishrei and one of the most significant and joyful Jewish holidays. Interestingly, Jews in many countries, towns and cities in the Diaspora are required to get a permit to build a Sukkah. This year Dutch Jews were advised against building Sukkah’s due to their Muslim neighbors and fears of vandalism. Sukkah’s are built everywhere in Israel and no permits are required. You will find Sukkah’s on sidewalks, on rooftops and balconies and everywhere in between. Building a Sukkah is mandated in the Torah with strict guidelines and everything needed to build a Kosher Sukkah is readily available here at a reasonable price or on monthly payments without interest. Additionally, stories of miracles abound regarding families who could not afford Sukkahs and suddenly they received funds or a Sukkah itself from a hidden source.
Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals. This means that in ancient times, when the Temple was standing, Jews across the Land of Israel would make a pilgrimage with family and friends, to Jerusalem. They would travel the distance with music and great revelry. They would decorate their animals and offering baskets with beautiful adornments. They would ascend to the Temple to offer their animal and grain sacrifices along with their luscious first fruits because Sukkot is also known as The Harvest festival.
In the Bible, Sukkot is also called, “the time of our rejoicing” and as such, we find that it is incumbent upon us to create deep, meaningful and especially joyous experiences during the Sukkot holiday. In Eretz Israel, this is easy to do, because the country abounds with an array of special family events for residents and tourists alike. These events bring great joy and pleasure to the people of Israel.
Israel is the Jewish state and our ancient Jewish homeland given to us by G-d Himself. As such, our Jewish holidays are part of the national calendar for the entire country. Banks, businesses and offices are closed for the holidays. In Israel, the first and last days of Sukkot, which are Torah mandated holidays, are national holidays, so it provides vacation time for many families. Most offices are only open in the morning on the intermediate days and many are closed altogether for the entire holiday. People use the time to be with their family and travel throughout our beautiful country.
Jerusalem is the center for Sukkah events. The number one attraction is Sukkah hopping, to check out the variety of Sukkahs and their decorations. This is free and is fun for all family members. The best Sukkah to check out is the Safra Square Sukkah because it is considered the largest in Israel. It is located in downtown Jerusalem and is more than 1,000 square-meters. It features activities for children and a number of performances. The Old City also holds great interest with its many Sukkahs in every nook and cranny. www.itraveljerusalem.com/events/sukkot-in-jerusalem is a great site for a list of fabulous Jerusalem Sukkot events. Another once in a lifetime experience is the extraordinary mass blessings that the male descendants of the priestly class, the Kohanim, who served in Temple times, give to the Jews who gather at the Kotel (Western Wall). This year the Birkat Kohanim, takes place during the morning services on Sunday, October 12th at 9:30 and 10:30am. These Blessings given by hundreds of Kohanim have enormous spiritual power and only occur twice a year: during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. Last Passover, there were 60,000 people in attendence, so if it is important to you, you must arrive early.
Tel Aviv has a story teller’s event along with biking and beach events and concerts. The Negev and Dead Sea area have music and dance festivals, and other outdoor events. Haifa has a variety of family events along with a film festival. The Galilee has a hot air balloon festival and many other nature events. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund will be leading free walks and tours in Parks and along nature paths throughout the country. Activities also include a night hike, a health walk, and a story-tellers festival. Sukkah’s have been erected and will be available at each site. For information view: www.kkl.org.il/eng.
The Hula Valley, located in the North is a Bird Watchers paradise, as it is a stop-over for hundreds of species of migrating birds. The Valley includes a National Park with a great movie on the Hula, lake and trails, with lots of turtles, a bird viewing site that is covered and water buffalo. A second Hula location has bikes to rent and golf carts. For more information contact www.agamon-hula.co.il.
Nearly every kosher restaurant in Israel constructs a Sukkah on its premises. This makes traveling around the country possible as it enables Jews to honor the biblical commandment to eat in a Sukkah for 7 days. All of the holiday offerings and events in Israel serve to highlight the reality of life as a Jew living in our biblical homeland. Celebrating Jewish holidays in the Land of Israel is a higher form of celebration, as it merges the holiness of the Land with the holiness of the people, holidays and all the mitzvot attached to them. One can more deeply feel the bond between G-d and His nation in His beloved Holy Land, as they blend together like the fragrant ketoret. Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaCohen Kook OBM, first chief Rabbi of Israel states in the commentary of his book, “Lights on Orot” that Eretz Yisrael has an exalted essence with an inner attachment to HaShem that is beyond intellectual assessment. He states that Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael is a Divine necessity of creation which allows for Divine inspiration to flow through the land and people as the Divine national soul of the nation becomes enlarged. From the merging of the two entities, we become conduits for receiving the exalted spiritual content which is otherwise beyond our spiritual grasp.
My dear fellow Jews, I bless us all that we merit coming home, both physically and emotionally to the truth and beauty that is available to be tapped into in our Holy Land. I bless us that we permit ourselves to truly become conduits to receive the exalted spiritual content present in all the holidays while residing in G-ds beloved Holy Land
Chag Sameach! With Love, Ariella Bracha
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