Top 10 Old and New Happenings This Week in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel, this holiday season is missing the usual annual mega-events.

However, even with the corona pandemic limiting activities, and Yom Kippur mostly in small groups outside, things are still happening on the Jerusalem streets.

Here are 10 favorites from this past week:

  1. Old – but still special, the Walls of the Old City at Jaffa Gate, lit up at night, always an impressive sight.

2. New – Lior Haiat · Spokesperson of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted a record-breaking marathon of 99 interviews over 15 hours. Here he was “talking peace” with an interviewer in Turkey.

3. At the same time, at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence, a smaller, socially distanced honor guard stood by the red carpet reception for six new Ambassadors to Israel.

The IDF band was in the distance in the garden and played the anthems.

With a new President, a new lineup procedure with the executive staff.

Signing the Beit Hanasi guest book is routine, but note the new guest book.

Greeting the new Ambassadors, with masks, but also without them.

The first Ambassador from Bahrain, Khaled Yusuf Al Jalahma, carefully copied his message from a piece of paper. While he was copying, President Herzog had an opportunity to explain the ceiling and the artwork in the main hall to the Ambassador’s wife.

I tried, but I could not get a clear image of his message, though I noticed that the last word before the signature was “peace.”

President Herzog also received the credentials of the new ambassadors of Mexico, Estonia, Spain, Greece, and Vatican City.

Contrast this with the page from the new Greek Ambassador.

Guest book of Israel President signed by HRH Prince William in Jerusalem Israel

But Prince William still remains the most concise message I have seen.

It was almost like old times when I returned to Beit Hanasi in the afternoon.

4. The new medalists and Tokyo 2020 Paralympic athletes were hosted by the Herzogs at a special session.

Speeches were inside in an interesting setup of the room and a video recap,

and outside for multiple photos with these 33 Paralympic athletes.

While it seemed everyone wanted their hands on the gold, I think all these athletes are special and winners.

5. There were new venues for the old Yom Kippur prayers, like this one on Charlap Street outside the synagogue.

A local park where I stood on Rosh Hashana looked so nice without the flies.

6. This is the new playground under construction in Gan Sacher, Sacker Park. It was to be ready in May but still needs work. The new children’s playground will be very different than the old one.

7. The cooler weather is lovely for walking in the evening under the new lights off Ben Yehuda Street.

8. When tourists return they will be amazed by the number of new hotels waiting for them, like this one on Ben Yehuda Street,

New Building on Bezalel Street

and new impressive buildings along many old Jerusalem streets.

9. Safra Square was set up each night for large crowds before Yom Kippur.

Special musical Selihot programs combined new and old melodies.

10. The first new sukkah I spotted before Yom Kippur was in Mamilla Mall. Now there are thousands. Shortly after the Yom Kippur fast was broken, the sounds of hammers could be heard all around town. One after another, the sukkot popped up around the Jerusalem streets. Just look up or behind apartment buildings, the best of them for next week.

Happy Holiday sign at Israeli President's house on Sukkot 5778 - 70 years.

Not quite back to normal, Beit Hanasi will not be open to the public again this year on the intermediate days of Sukkot. The Herzogs have invited only Shalva and its founder Kalman Samuels, with no media access either.

Huge events like the Jerusalem March also are not happening. But I plan to be back next week with the new event planned for here in the neighborhood.

Chag sameach!

From Jerusalem – Shana Tova

Oh, what a year this was in Jerusalem, in Israel, and in the world!

Hard to believe I used to worry about things being the same year after year in Jerusalem and finding new things to share with you.

But now it’s time to say goodbye to the challenges of 5781 and welcome the new year 5782, beginning on Monday night.

The clouds in the night sky covered the Knesset.

Nature has been a constant this past year, but which will come first – the first rain or the budget – or – oy – another election?

The new sign at the bus stop reminds us of a sweet summer in Jerusalem.

Sports fans are celebrating Israel’s win over Austria 5-2 and advancing in the World Cup competition.

The Paralympics in Japan received less attention than the Olympics, but as usual, Israelis received medals in those races. Nine Israeli athletes received medals of which 6 were gold medals.

The Jerusalem Night Run included a group of visually impaired runners.

The winner in the Jerusalem Night Run received almost no attention. The event was much more modest than the last Jerusalem Marathon.

A book launch for the book ‘Hidden Heroes’ brought together Russian refusniks and individuals who worked for their release. More on that another time.

Tours are back at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence. The table buffet was set with sweets for the annual Israeli President’s New Year Diplomats Reception, not for the tourists from Kiryat Gat.

However, there was time for a photo with Herzl next to the pomegranates.

Last year, the 5781 annual diplomat event was all online.

For 5782, President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal hosted a live event. All the diplomats lined up to shake hands, pose, and have their photos taken.

The new Ambassador from Morocco was the only one to make a presentation to the new Israeli President.

The Egyptian Ambassador has been to Beit Hanasi many times.

But the Ambassador from Bahrain, Khaled Al-Jalahma, made his first appearance at Beit Hanasi.

Still serving as Military Secretary to the President of Israel is B.G. Alaa Abu-Rukun, and he and the ambassador agreed to stop, pose, and smile for me.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrived late and spoke briefly at the formal part of the program inside, where everyone was required to wear a mask.

The diplomats were then asked to go outside, and take a glass of wine or juice to raise for a toast, l’chaim,

and taste an apple in honey for a sweet new year.

Apples and honey can be found on the new Jerusalem street signs.

Signs for a sweet year for 5782

and a healthy one, line Jerusalem streets,

along with the new signs for the new school year. Classes have started even as the number of corona cases rises. One girl in our family was in school for only one day before returning to zoom school.

When corona closings started last year, outside minyanim popped up and out on many Jerusalem streets. For Rosh Hashana 5782 outside prayers are again recommended, but not mandated. Thousands were at the Kotel, Western Wall, divided into sections, for selihot after Shabbat.

The rules keep changing to keep us on guard. Tour groups are to be allowed into Israel soon with no mandatory quarantine.

Now to prepare holiday meals, starting back slowly from no guests for so long. Oh, the days when eight at the table was a normal day.

After taking photos of hundreds of dignitaries and not being in any of them,

I finally gave in and had my photo was taken with the oldest working journalist in the world, 97 1/2 years young Walter Bingham.

As 5781 comes to an end – Shana tova!