Erev Sukkot is almost here. Jerusalemites prepared for another round of holiday feasts and holiday davening. Once again the supermarkets were packed with people stocking up on their next few meals. But this time people were also buying their Sukkot supplies.
Over the last few days, you could hear people hammering away at their Sukkot and putting in the last touches. Some of the Sukkot have walls made of wood and some are just prefabricated kits that you can buy off the street. Some have roofs made of reeds and other have roofs made of palms. Many are decorated with decorations that look like they are Christmas decorations.
For the Jews out there that have Christmas tree envy, I would tell them to look no further than Sukkot. It is an underplayed holiday in the U.S. that gets overshadowed by the High Holidays and Hannukah. But there are so many wonderful aspects about this holiday. We get to eat festive meals in the outdoors, sing beautiful prayers called Hallel and shake exotic agricultural plants.
In many ways Sukkot feels like the exact opposite of Yom Kippur. During Yom Kippur, people sit almost all day in shul and focus on spiritual matters. You’re not supposed to eat, drink, bath, engage in marital relations, wear leather, annoint yourself. It is a day of non-doing. Whereas Sukkot is such an active holiday. We have to get outside our homes and into the outdoors. We build structures and shake the Lulav and Etrog. We are much more outwardly focused than introspective, inviting people to join us in the Sukkah. Judaism is personified in both holidays–the reflective and the active.
I can see how cold and rainy weather could put a damper on the celebrations. I remember many rainy Sukkot, where the colors from the Sukkah decorations just bleeded away. Here in Jerusalem, the weather is beautiful, go figure. It usually doesn’t rain around this period, but we always pray for the rains start afterwards. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the holidays of the month of Tishrei fall right before the rainy season, do you?
Meanwhile, my work at ICCI has been fulfilling and interesting. I told you that I had attended a conference last month sponsored by ICCI and a Japanese organization called RKK. Here’s a blurb about it from the Web site:
ICCI and Rissho Kosei-Kai Sponsor Conference on Reconciliation
From August 19th to August 23rd, ICCI hosted an inspiring conference focusing on the Palestinian and Israeli narratives and on ways for both sides to bring about reconciliation. Participants included nine Palestinian Israelis, 9 Jewish Israelis, as well as 11 Japanese students and 7 staff members from RKK. The students grappled with difficult and thought-provoking topics such as Palestinian Israelis’ perspectives of the Naqba (The catastrophe of 1948) and the commemoration of the Shoah in Israeli society, and participated in frank and open discussions that furthered their understanding of each others’ narratives.
I’ll see if I can post the report that I had written about the event since I think it’s got some good material in there.
Last night I accompanied a group called the Jerusalem Interreligious Youth Council, a joint project of my organization ICCI and Palestinian Vision, to Abu Gosh, an Arab town right outside of Jerusalem. JIYC is a group of young Palestinian Israelis and Israelis (mostly college student age) that began in June during a 3-day conference. One of the important goals of the project is for Israelis and Palestinians to meet and get to know one another, thereby bridging the divide between both peoples. There are Jewish Israelis as well as Christian and Muslim Palestinians that attend the events. In July and August, they met and discussed the meaning of Jerusalem to Christians, Jews and Muslims and examined both the political and historical dimensions.
I got to speak with many of the participants during the foray, all of whom were very nice and inquisitive of what I was doing in Israel. I will be incorporating some of my interviews with them into a report for ICCI, which I hope I can post here.
It was an amazing opportunity for me to be with Israelis and Palestinians and to practice my Hebrew. (During the discussions, they translated between Hebrew and Arabic. Most of my individual conversations with participants were in English)
We went to Abu Gosh because we were invited there by one of the Palestinian participants, a very sweet and enthusiastic young woman. We first went to her parent’s lovely home and waited for everyone to arrive. Our host then gave us a tour of a monastary and church and invited us up to her aunt’s home who prepared some delicious Arabic food for us–hummus, stuffed vegetables, some kind of meat pastries… (For the Israeli participants who kept kosher, Yael brought some kosher food from Jerusalem.) The aunt, a passionate advocate of peace and dialogue often hosts groups of Jews, Christians and Muslims in her home, so cooking for 20-30 people wasn’t a stretch for her :). She’s even got her own Web site: www.abu-gosh.co.il
I’ll stop for now since I’ve got to get ready for Sukkot. We’re being hosted by one of Eric’s teachers tonight, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be adding some pictures of Beit She’an and Gilboa as well as our Sukkah (our first one!) very soon.