Sukkot in Jerusalem

 

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which takes place two weeks into the Jewish New Year, is widely celebrated throughout Jerusalem. During the holiday, each family constructs a temporary outdoor tabernacle- a sukkah- which serves for meals, sleeping and praying.

 

Long considered one of Judaism's most important annual holidays, Sukkot has been an integral part of Jerusalem's calendar since the days of the First and Second Temples. While in those times, Jewish worshipers made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple, Jewish believers from around the world continue to flock to Jerusalem to this day, taking part in the special atmosphere in the city and going for special prayers at the Western Wall Plaza.

The holiday of Sukkot is mandated in the Jewish bible, when God orders Moses and the sons of Israel to construct temporary tabernacles and 'sit in them' for seven days. This holiday later became one of the Three Pillars- three annual holidays on which every Jew was expected to make the journey to Jerusalem, offering livestock and first fruits as a sacrifice to God.

Once the Second Temple had been destroyed and the Jews exiled from Jerusalem, these traditions were no longer maintained. But for thousands of years and in every part of the world, Jewish believers continued to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, constructing the Sukkah and conducting family meals and special celebrations in the outdoors.

In modern day Jerusalem, the tradition lives on. Several days before the holiday, families begin to construct their Sukkot. Gardens, balconies, rooftops, driveways and even sidewalks are suddenly filled with these temporary buildings- which come in numerous shapes, sizes and colors. Decorating the interior of the Sukkah becomes a friendly competition between children, as they attempt to make their family's Sukkah the most special one on the block.

When the holiday arrives, walking down any Jerusalem street offers a view of endless sukkot, each telling the unique story of its inhabitants and their heritage. The streets are filled with the sounds and scents of families dining outside, and singing can be heard from within the walls of the various sukkot.

In addition to the Sukkah, there are other special events that take place on Sukkot in Jerusalem. One of these traditions is the annual Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim), which takes place at the Western Wall Plaza. During this blessing, thousands gather at the Kotel, the Western Wall, to receive a blessing from the Kohanim, the Jewish priests. During this event, the streets of the Old City and the Jewish Quarter are filled with Jewish worshipers, many attending with their families and wrapped in the white cloth prayer shawl- the Talit.

As schools in Jerusalem are closed during the week of Sukkot and the city is filled with Jewish tourists from around the world, the entire city is filled with an atmosphere of festivity and joyfulness. It is a special time to visit Jerusalem, both for Jewish believers and for non-Jewish visitors.