A non-Jewish friend coming to Israel on business next week wrote to ask if I could explain what an American Jewish colleague had warned him about in advance of his visit. “Don’t freak out, but the whole country will be on vacation, and people will be sitting around in these little flimsy booths…”
Yes, I confirmed to my friend: A few days after Yom Kippur, Israelis celebrate Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, as it’s known in English. For seven days, we commemorate the time our ancestors spent wandering in the desert as well as pondering the temporary nature of our own existence.
How do we do this? By actually building and living in temporary booths (that’s the meaning of the word Sukkot) and Jerusalem is one of the best places to see how many variations and interpretations of a “booth” people can come up with and attach to their home or business or even build in their parking spot on the street.
Sukka takes over my parking spot on the street (photo credit: Judy Lash Balint)
So here are my suggestions to my friend, and anyone who happens to be coming to Jerusalem, of a few of the best places to see the most interesting sukkot this year–the holiday starts on Wednesday night, September 18, and goes on for seven days, so there’s plenty of time to plan a Sukkah route.
Have any favorites of your own? Add them to the comments section below.
1. Start out with one of the grandest sukkot–that would be at the President’s Residence on Hanassi Street in Rehavia. President Shimon Peres holds court at an open house in his sukka on one of the intermediate days of the festival. You’ll get a cold drink, a hand shake and a photo op with the president–providing you have the patience to stand on line for a while…
President Shimon Peres welcomes children to his wooden sukkah, September 2012 (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
2. Head over to the Jewish Quarter in the Old City via St James Road. Head straight down to the main square in front of the restored Hurva Synagogue and join the crowds reveling in the huge sukka there.
Building the Hurva Synagogue sukka (photo credit: Judy Lash Balint)
3. Walk a few streets north into the back streets of the Jewish Quarter and look up on the rooftops and into the courtyards. You’ll see mattresses piled up and kids running in and out of their neighbor’s sukkot.
4. Wend your way out of the Old City via Mt Zion and stop by the funky Diaspora Yeshiva and Shulchan David sukkot that overlook the southern view over the Gehinom Valley.
5. For the most luxurious sukkot in town, stop by for a peek at the mega-sukkot of the deluxe hotels on King David Street–the David Citadel and the King David Hotel. They’ll be setting up to serve the hundreds of guests who descend for the holiday.
6. Vying for the title of sukkot with the best views are those in the restaurants atop the Mamilla Alrov Mall just outside Jaffa Gate. Try Kedma on the roof level, or Cafe Rimon or Aroma on the mall level. A few steps away is Jerusalem’s town square, Kikar Safra, which boasts the world’s largest sukkah, sponsored by the Jerusalem municipality. Different activities there every evening.
7. For the strictly ecologically-minded, walk through the green space across from the Jerusalem Theater on Chopin Street (it’s known locally as the chursha) and spot the simple sukka amongst the trees.
Sukka in a Jerusalem park (photo credit: Judy Lash Balint)
8. For a change of pace, walk down the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall in the center of town–almost every restaurant and cafe has their own sukka. Back when the kosher Burger King was in business this was one of the best Kodak moments…
Sukka in front of kosher Burger King (photo credit: Judy Lash Balint)
9. End your Sukka tour with a stroll through the mostly orthodox neighborhoods of Geula and the Bukharan Quarter. Keep your eyes wide open and look up as you meander through the back alleys. Even the tiniest apartment will have a sukka perilously perched on the balcony.
(photo credit: Judy Lash Balint)
10. And finally, you might just see a sukka at your bus stop too…
Bus stop sukka (photo credit: Judy Lash Balint)