The Sukkah at the Gilat Shalit vigil
AT THE risk of offending two faiths in one swoop, I've decided Sukkot feels a lot like Christmas. The emphasis is on eating and drinking and the sukkah decorations - the paper chains and gaudy metallic garlands adorning the temporary shelters that have popped up in every available bit of outdoor space - are just like the ones festooning homes throughout December. The sukkah itself, with its palm frond thatched roof and flimsy walls, might have its roots firmly in the Old Testament but is distinctly Bethlehem stable if you ask me. Then there's the "lulav" - those palm fronds: all the talk here has been of crop fails and escalating prices because the post-Arab Spring Egyptians have refused to meet demand (handily fitting neatly into the Israeli isolation story Daddy J is working on in Istanbul for Today as I type). All very reminiscent of Christmas tree price hike stories (seriously, I swear we paid £60 for ours last year), even if Britain hasn't fallen out with Norway.
Everyone in their Sukkot best for the Temple today reminded me of the few trips I have made to church on the 25th, with people dressed up in their new outfits. The one glaring difference is I've never seen the streets of London congested with people spilling out of church the way that Jerusalem's city centre was today after late morning prayers. Again, I was astounded at the high proportion of Americans: the airlines must have cleaned up with ticket prices last week. And walking through town, on our way to the park, the air reverberated with the noise of people clinking dish upon dish out to their sukkah (as instructed by Moses, meals have to be taken in the sukkah for the duration of Sukkot). I half expected to hear the Queen start talking after they'd done eating.
Once in the park, Gan Sacher, the city's largest and just up the hill from the Knesset, the vibe was distinctly secular, with groups of Russians competing to out-shashlik each other with their BBQs. Until, that is, a group of proselytising Haredim turned up, lulav and etrogs in hand. One by one, they went round all the picnickers around us, making them do the Sukkot thing of waving the lulav around. Funnily enough, they gave us a miss. Which means we still need to seek out one of the many sukkot erected by the city's Kosher restaurants: Louis is desperate to join in somehow so I've promised we'll find a falafel or such like to eat under the palm fronds. Either that or perhaps we can pick some up half price and build that indoor camp after all.