Sukkot in Jerusalem 2020

Oh, Jerusalem of 2020.

It used to be that “20-20” was an expression for hindsight.

This year of 2020 has taken on a different context with the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel coronavirus has changed the world and certainly life as we knew it in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Israel, endured a holiday season so unlike recent years, the excited holiday crowds and tens of thousands of international visitors were missing from the Jerusalem streets.

The huge Birkat Kohanim at the Kotel, Western Wall, was extremely limited.

The Israeli Chief Rabbis, Mayor Moshe Lion, US Ambassador David Friedman attended, however, the main plaza was empty. People watched from home on a screen, on Facebook for a live stream of the service.

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On other days a lone Kohen could be found blessing the small prayer groups. Regulations for the holiday week this year limited outdoor groups to 20 people, and within one kilometer from home.

This was the year for the private home sukkah, tucked away in the garden,

or up on the roof,

in all shapes and styles.

Some sukkot blended into the architecture,

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while others were easier to see.

A wooden one on this small porch is an annual sight,

but there seemed to be many more new white walls in driveways this year,

as more people had to stay home and not travel near or far.

They were placed in parking spots next to apartment buildings.

On the last night of Sukkot, I took a walk around the neighborhood and found a friend eating dinner. This “communal” sukkah is shared by many people in the building, but this year families were eating at separate times and not sharing meals.

When I started going each year, President Shimon Peres was at Beit Hanasi, hosting the Israeli President’s sukkah which was open to the public.

But this year, President Rivlin missed out hosting the public, and the “open sukkah” was a two-hour program online, which included

the Israel Space Agency, a program involving young Israelis.

The little Professor G got my vote as the cutest presenter.

Photo credit: Aleksandr Tokar

Even the sukkah at the Kotel Plaza, though brightly lit, was much smaller this year and was used only by those who lived near by.

Instead of running around all night long in Jerusalem to attend classes, now one can sit anywhere in the world and zoom in and out to learn Torah.

This year went online for dozens of lectures for Hashana Raba.

And music – last year Akiva Tourgeman was singing at Beit Hanasi, this year he was on Israeli TV.

This year Tourgeman was on stage for Hashana Raba televised concert.

Yemima Mizrachi spoke and introduced Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and other performers on the outdoor stage for an online Hashana Raba event.

This was the year of the small sukkah and even smaller holiday businesses.

Hoshanot at the Kotel, were seen live on Facebook and now on YouTube.

The Jerusalem March with tens of thousands from around the world coming to show love for Jerusalem did not happen.

The Bible Marathon was run online, not over the Judean landscapes.

Tourism which had been in the millions of visitors, went down to zero.

Small business owners have really been suffering with forced closings.

This was a year to find simple pleasure in nature close to home.

Repurposed unused school lunch bags made into a sukkah decoration.

Of immediate family time together,

seeking quiet time and some sun up on the roof,

or on a rock in the park for solitude.

The Sukkot and Simhat Torah under corona limitations for many were at home, home alone without the usual dancing and large parties.

None of the crowds of past years.

Oh, Jerusalem of 2020!

The sun set on another holiday season so different than last year.

Sukkot 2020 one to remember or one to try and forget?

Next year in Jerusalem.

Rosh Hashana 5781

This year in Jerusalem, Rosh Hashana was not like in previous years. As with most of the world, the Jewish New Year was spent alone at home or in small gatherings rather than in crowded synagogues and overflow services. 

At the Kotel, the Western Wall, the usual huge crowds were missing.

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Sections were divided into small prayer groups before Rosh Hashana for late-night Selihot.

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Those smaller groups filled some of the plaza areas this year.

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And then at night after Rosh Hashana, even those small groups were gone.

Such a sorry sight, at a time usually filled with tourists and visitors. 

The Jerusalem Great Synagogue was empty for the first time in its history.

The green spaces of Jerusalem, all of its parks, were called into use.

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These signs were posted wishing park visitors’ good health and a good year.

Jerusalem Gazelle Valley opening day

A special announcement was made that the Gazelle Park would be open during the lockdown, with everyone required to wear a mask.

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Hope they turned off the water sprinklers on the holiday for Gan Sacher, Sacher Park. Extra bins for holiday trash were available. 

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The ads for juice near Gan Sacher had a happy holiday greeting.

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Almonds were ripe on the tree and falling to the ground. Only they were so hard I could not crack the ones I brought home with a hammer.

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Machane Yehuda Market, the shuk, was busy the week before the impending holiday shutdown. Shoppers were rushing to stock up with food and supplies. Supermarkets were filled to overflowing capacity. 

Display of unusual fruits for Rosh Hashana in shuk, Mahane Yehuda market

Fresh new fruits for the second night of Rosh Hashana are especially popular this time of year.

pomegrante seeds

A long time favorite, yummy pomegranate pie for the holiday. 

Family of beekeeper at Beit Hanasi before the New Year.

No little bees photo ops this year, and a very much smaller reception for beekeepers was held at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence. 

Tzipi Hotovely taking a photo of the food at Beit Hanasi

No big New Year event for foreign diplomats at Beit Hanasi as in the past.

Photo credit: Mark Neyman GPO

This year President Rivlin hosted a socially distanced private reception for diplomats who were seated apart and all wearing masks.

The Selihot in the Beit Hanasi Synagogue was an annual event during Rivlin’s tenure. This was the last chance as his 7-year term is up in July.

However, this year due to religious service size restrictions these will not be held during this three-week lockdown period.

For a lockdown, this new Jerusalem project in the Schneller Compound is the place to live, to enjoy parks and open spaces. It is a magazine perfect neighborhood.

From Jerusalem this past week, all eyes were watching the signing of treaties with UAE and Bahrain. Only later I noticed on the left side for Israelis, a man in the front rows got up to take a photo on his phone, as the US side sat politely.

The Old City Walls that night were illuminated with flags of Israel, the US, UAE, and Bahrain in honor of the historic occasion.

Already numerous interactions have taken place. The webinar on health and technology I listened to is worthy of sharing with you soon, it was so impressive what they have done in Abu Dhabi in the last few years.

Photo credit: Shifra

However, also on the Jerusalem streets near the Prime Minister’s Residence, the protests continue. Though there was a supposed lockdown, a large table was set for 120 people, with no distancing, no masks, and lots of noise for Rosh Hashana on the first night. Protests in democratic Israel are legal.

Sorry, but I find their behavior UNEXCEPTIBLE.

New security cameras are being installed in the area, and new security is reinforcing the regular police and border police who have had to deal with these loud mob scenes week after week.

Sweet New Year poster for Rosh Hashanah

But for now, hoping all have a sweet and healthy year.

President Reuven Rivlin gave New Year greetings in English this year.

Next year in Jerusalem!

Meanwhile, preparing for Sukkot holiday to start October 2, 2020,

We spotted the first sukka of the season!

Jerusalem New Signs for Rosh Hashana

Jerusalem New Signs for Rosh Hashana

It was hard not to get whiplash in Jerusalem, Israel, this past week.

The extremes of the good news and bad were so sharp it was hard to keep up.

While the 4.5 million Israelis who usually go overseas for their summer holidays had to stay home because of the pandemic situation, Israel’s nature spots were fully booked. Now a holiday lockdown is predicted as the number of COVID-19 infections rises.

Schools opened. Schools closed. Classes were on Zoom. Students were home.

Oh, and there was a heatwave, making going outside unpleasant!

Light clouds in Jerusalem sky over Israel Museum at sunset

The humidity rose in the evening making the nights unusually uncomfortable. But over the Jerusalem streets, clouds produced lovely and colorful sunsets like this one over the Israel Museum, partially illuminated in the center of the photo.

Fixing street light over Jerusalem streets

The demand for electricity caused random power outages. However, these Jerusalem street lights did not go off in the morning light and needed professional attention.

Mask with Baltimore Orioles Baseball team

An unusual sports excitement, Dean Kremer, the first Israeli ever drafted by a US Major League Baseball team made his major league debut for the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched a great game, and even though they beat the Yankees, Israeli Yankee fans were impressed enough to take to social media.

Trying to get back to some sort of normal with coronavirus has been difficult for theaters, cultural festivals and events. The Film & Conversation group in Baka/Katamon is planning to move outside Beit Yehudit at night on 13 September.

Theater outside in Jerusalem Israel due to COVID-19

Signs were up for performances in theater courtyards.

"There are stars outside" Hebrew sign for theater in corona restrictions

The ‘Stars Outside’ signs were up again, trying to get audience to attend.

Jerusalem signs in Hebrew

The Hansen House announced a designer’s event.

Hebrew sign announcing community elections in Jerusalem Israel

And a new sign for new Jerusalem local elections in November.

Rosh Hashana begins on Friday night.

COVID-19 limited sellhot in Jerusalem Safra Square

After Shabbat, the Ashkenazim joined the Sefardim in Selichot,  who have already been saying them for a month. Due to COVID-19 regulations, this year there was a special prayer service with special seating in Kikar Safra, the Jerusalem Municipal plaza.

Yitzhak Meir leading a musical selhot in Kikar Safra

The late-night musical Selihot were led by Yizhak Meir and broadcast on YouTube and Facebook. An announcement was made at the end that people should not crowd, but leave in ‘capsules’ and small groups.

Screen shot of protesters in Jerusalem

Meanwhile, not far away, at the same time, the anti-Bibi protesters were back for the 12th week.

Sign in Hebrew for a successful year

The new Jerusalem street signs for a successful New Year,

Prosperous and happy new year sign in Jerusalem Israel

and a year of happiness.

Pomegranates growing in Jerusalem, Israel park area

Pomegranates are another sign of Rosh Hashana. 

Jerusalem street sign for Good New Year

Apples and honey and success are yet another New Year sign.

Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin, Oron Shaul captive in Gaza by Hamas

Reports that Egyptians are now trying to get Hamas to release the bodies of Hadar Goldin, and Oron Shaul.  Avera Mengistu has been held captive in Gaza for six years.

It’s time to bring the boys home.

Selihot last year, over 1,000 people attended the Jerusalem Great Synagogue.

It has been closed since the spring and will remain closed for the High Holy Days this year.

Kotel for COIVD-19 selihot

The Kotel, Western Wall, usually crowded with tens of thousands for Selihot, had a limited crowd, divided into ‘capsules,’ and only filled up well after midnight.

What a year 5780 has been!

So there you have some of the ups and downs, good and bad, certainly different, of the past week

Coming in so strongly, the Hebrew year 5780 Jerusalem hit record numbers in tourism. It was then hit with a pandemic and closed borders to overseas tourists.

Now with prospects of normalization with Gulf neighbors, there should be euphoria. But new closures dampen holiday planning. No one really knows what will be for the next day, next week, next month, certainly not next year.

Hebrew sign for a year of good health

But as we begin 5781, wishing all a year of good health!

Hope to see you all again soon on the Jerusalem streets.