Is there any joy like that of a chag in Israel? From observing yom tov as we were commanded to (one day), enjoying chol ha’moed with our family and friends, and the never-ending experience of our land, there is simply nothing that compares to it.
Our family celebration actually began the night before Sukkot. Our niece Rivky became a kallah and we enjoyed spending time with her family (Goldie’s brother and sister-in-law David and Marcia Kreinberg) and her chattan’s family (the Horns) at the l’chaim in Yerushalayim. We rarely get to be part of such a family simcha, and being with them was a special treat.
We saw many familiar Five Towns faces, too many to recount here; however, I should make a special mention of Paul Packer, whom David works with. Paul made sure to reinforce how much I needed to share the simcha with everyone, and so I am making sure that Paul knows I remembered and put his name in here too.
During chol ha’moed, I saw a post on Facebook from someone in North America exhorting Israeli friends to stop posting about all the fun stuff they have been doing over the chag and complaining that we Israelis have no recognition of how tormenting it is to see us having fun (as if we have no cares in the world) while they are busy toiling away at their jobs. Reading the back-and-forth in the comments, it seemed clear that the original statement was made out of frustration that Israelis seem to be semi-mocking in our attitude and should show more consideration for the poor people who live in chutz la’aretz.
That statement made me want to post more pictures. Even though there are many good and valid reasons that people cannot make aliyah, that does not mean that one should not regret that inability. Everything that we (those here in Israel and those living in chu’l) can do to increase the yearning to be in Israel and the jealousy of those who have the z’chut to live here, is a positive thing in my eyes. So here goes.
Our Sukkot was terrific. We were a little concerned when it began, as there was a lot of lightning and thunder when we walked home from shul the first night. And it rained while we were in the sukkah. Yet the rain was rather brief and did not make us think of leaving the sukkah, so we looked at it as a warning shot from Above. Other than a couple of drizzles in the night, the weather was pretty terrific.
My uncle and aunt were in Israel for the first half of the chag. They try to come every Sukkot if possible. They hold the second day of yom tov, so we drive in to Yerushalayim and meet them in a restaurant for dinner. Since it is still yom tov, my uncle (who is a workaholic and physically attached to his myriad electronic gadgets) is able to relax and enjoy being with the kids and catching up with them without grabbing his phone or tablet every ten seconds.
We had a wonderful evening with them, which was only enhanced by sitting one table over from Mendy and Barbara Silber, old friends from the Five Towns who were also having their yom tov sheini seudah in the same restaurant’s sukkah. If you haven’t been in Israel or seen this, the restaurants, knowing that it is still chag for their customers, will let them bring their credit cards in advance to arrange payment before yom tov. Walking through Yerushalayim, you see hundreds of tourists dressed in their yom tov best, enjoying a seudah, singing zemirot, and making a truly festive atmosphere throughout town.
We had a couple of family barbecues—both sides, different nights—and our kids went to the local Sukkot concert/festival as always. And we went on a couple of tours on chol ha’moed. Our first was a tour of one of the largest cement factories in the world, the Nesher factory, just outside Ramla. If you’ve been to Israel, try to picture the road from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim. Just after the six-lane merger/split, off in the distance to your right, you’ve probably noticed a couple of large towers (they are well lit at night) that look like they could be home to rockets or spaceships. That is a cement factory, and we had a pleasant couple of hours learning about how they make cement.
The best part of the day happened before we even began the tour. We arrived a bit early and decided to take a walk around the visitors center. At the center’s exit, we saw a sukkah, obviously put there for the benefit of all the guests who came for the tour and wanted to grab a bite. So we grabbed our nosh and made our way to the sukkah.
As we entered, we noticed that there was a lulav and etrog on the table, conveniently left there for anyone who might want to make a berachah on the lulav that day. I would guess that they were placed there by the local Chabad, but no matter who left it there, it really made an impact on us.
How great is our land! The opportunities for mitzvot surround us and it is a commonplace thing that doesn’t draw a second glance. Yes, there are amusement parks and circuses, etc., in the U.S. with sukkot for their guests. Yet, those facilities are sponsored by religious institutions or those looking to make money off your attendance. The Nesher Company charges nothing for their tour. They put the sukkah up at their expense. Someone made that lulav and etrog available. Mi k’amcha Yisrael?
We drove to Shilo (with my brother and sister-in-law Ely and Ilana and a bunch of families from our neighborhood) for another day’s activity. Ancient Shilo was the resting place of the Mishkan in pre-Beit HaMikdash times. The current town of Shilo sits above what some archaeologists believe is the site of ancient Shilo.
For chol ha’moed, they run an educational festival (with some fun activities as well) on the ancient Shilo site. We took the self-guided tour and learned a lot about Tanach. The archaeologists have identified two or three locations where the Mishkan would have fit on that site, and designated one spot as most likely.
We made a minyan for Minchah at that location. Only in Israel can I visit the Kotel one week and the possible site of the Mishkan the next, davening at both. Only in Israel can I feel the holiness of the land wherever I visit. Only in Israel does the entire country schedule its vacation around the chagim (obviously not everyone—there are many people who still work) and make chol ha’moed family time.
I hope you and your family enjoyed your chag and continue to wish that someday, very soon, you too get to benefit from being a part of our national homeland.
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at email@example.com.