IF SHOPPING is the new religion, then imagine the frenzy when shopping becomes a Biblical imperative. That's what happened today, as the clock ticked down to another major Jewish holiday. Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, a seven-day extravaganza of a harvest festival has a shopping list longer than an Orthodox hemline before the serious business of eating and drinking can commence. And raucous singing, judging from the din outside our flat tonight, audible because Shabbat-esque rules on day one mean the 16 lanes of traffic have fallen silent.
God apparently told Moses to tell the people to stock up on all things leafy to build special shelters ("sukkot" in Hebrew) to remind them of the dwellings in which the Israelites lived during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Then there are the lemons, or "etrog": giant, knobbly affairs that get waved around during prayers. Or else. Cue frantic scenes across West Jerusalem as its entire Jewish population, and half of America's too judging from the accents and jetlagged children around, rushed to fulfill Moses' commandments.
The scenes in Jerusalem's Haredim quarters of Ge'ula and Mea Shearim made Oxford Street on Christmas Eve look peaceful. What I was thinking taking a buggy up there God alone knows. Stall upon stall of "lulav" sellers flogging myrtle twigs, willow twigs and palm fronds lined the tiny pavements, each surrounded by gaggles of frock coated, black hatted Haredim peering at each and every twig to check the biblical perfection of its shoots. The oddest thing was that in contrast to your typical consumer clientele, the Haredim out shopping were almost exclusively male. Given their general attitude towards women, I can only presume the fairer sex couldn't be trusted. This meant that my cunning disguise, of maxi dress, cardigan and headscarf - flesh being taboo - was for nought because simply being female made me stick out like a sore thumb. Not to mention Louis's shortish back and sides, or the boys' lack of matching striped shirts (I noticed some families prefer horizontal, others vertical, I know not why).
Being a kid after my own heart, Louis was keen to max the consumerist elements of the festival, and demanded that we too stocked up with palm fronds. But fun as the sukkot look squeezed into every available bit of residential outdoor space, from roof tops to balconies, I reckoned that a palm frond camp was probably beyond me, although I must admit I'm regretting it slightly now. Instead, we made do with our very own sukkot jigsaw, a 70-piece number for which I paid far too much. Still, it killed some time before the DVD went on. Not sure what Moses would make of it though.