Samaritans Celebrate Sukkot

This week it was good to be back on the road again after a difficult year at home with so many annual events canceled or otherwise extremely limited.

We drove from the Jerusalem hills past the site of ancient Shilo,

then through the Binyamin region to the Shomron,

and up past Har Bracha to reach Har Gerizim.

The Samaritans, (Shomronim in Hebrew) are a tiny sect with ancient Israelite roots, a unique and fascinating group.

Their religious-ethnic community consists primarily of 840 people who reside in Kiryat Luza, a small village near Shechem in the Shomron, and a smaller community in the central coastal city of Holon.

Once numbering over 3 million people, today the Samaritans are Israel’s smallest religious minority and view themselves as the keepers of the ancient Israelite religion and culture.

They study the five books of Moses in the ancient Hebrew script, which children learn how to read as 6-year-olds. Their version of the biblical Shema is posted over their outside door, not on the doorposts.

Circumcisions are performed on the eighth day. They do not use electricity on Shabbos. On Yom Kippur, they spend most of the day in prayer.

On a tour of the Samaritan Museum, matzah, bitter herbs, and a shofar are on display, along with ancient stones.

Samaritans celebrate the biblical holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. However, the Samaritan celebration is different from its Jewish counterpart in multiple ways.

Their writing is in ancient Hebrew script.

Their version of a Torah scroll is on display in the museum.

The scroll written on animal skin has three branches on top to represent Shimon, Levi, and Menasheh who they view as their forefathers, our guide explained.

The Samaritan Sukkot, though based on a lunar calendar, is held at a different time of year due to a different leap year structure. This year they celebrate Sukkot a month after the Jewish calendar, beginning October 20th, and ending after seven days, with Simchat Torah. 

Tourists can only view their synagogue from the outside. Usually, only men go to the synagogue services, however, on Simchat Torah women attend.

In addition, the Samaritan sukkah built in honor of the festival has a different appearance and is built inside the home.

The ornate sukkah ceiling took a day for the family to build, starting first with a layer of palm leaves, and then with an arrangement of real fruit, included etrogim.

In his sukkah, museum director Husni Al Kahen told us that he is a 164th generation descendant from Adam. He discussed the significance of Har Gerizim and its holiness and aliyah le’regel. 

Tour groups are scheduled all week, a soldier and a young woman arrive, as

the younger brother of the High Priest was showing his bible to our group.

The annual Samaritan slaughter of one-year-old lambs for Pesach, with salting and roasting, attracts crowds of tourists on a regular year. 

However, I am much more a fan of the Sukkot colors and customs.

More than once we were told that the Samaritans love peace. Many have passports from Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel. The Samaritans from Kiryat Luza attend Palestinian Authority schools in Shechem. However, those living in Holon attend Israeli schools and serve in the IDF but not in sensitive locations. 

Kiryat Luza has a garbage dumpster with markings of the Israeli Shomron regional council,

but the collection truck probably from Turkey had Arabic written on it.

I noticed an Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance donated in memory of Rabbi Raziel Shevach z”l and Talia Mizrahi Amali z”l, who were murdered in terrorist attacks.

The Samaritan community moved from Shechem to Kiryat Luza in the late 1990s because of the intifada and manages to keep to themselves. With fewer females than males, men are allowed to marry women from outside, but only if the women learn with the high priest and then convert. However, if a young woman were to marry a Muslim or a Jew, she would be disowned by her family. 

The last stop on the Media Central sponsored tour was the home of the Samaritan High Priest Abdallah Wasef dressed in his gold robe, who apologized for not feeling well, but took time to meet our group.

Samaritan Sukkot, one of the interesting Israeli smaller stories to share.

Inside Three Jerusalem Landmarks

It is exciting to see tour buses back on the Jerusalem streets. Israeli tourists have been around for a while, but with the big buses with foreign tours lined up in traffic, it feels like “normal.”

New lighting highlights the grandeur of the Great Synagogue and Heichal Shlomo at night. This is one of the many new attractions on the Jerusalem streets.

I want to take you inside three special locations and show events that were not so easily visible to the onlooker.

The first was at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence, where the only glimpse of Angela Merkel was her motorcade making an exit after lunch.

It was a private lunch for two, the German Chancellor and the new Israeli President, and the caterer had a very little clean-up to cart away.

This was the week of Yom HaAliyah, Aliyah Day which is set for the Hebrew month of Cheshvan to coincide with the biblical portion where Avram is told to go to the holy land.

Multiple events were held, the first of which was at Beit Hanasi, honoring five Olim, immigrants who have made important contributions. The only one I knew before the award ceremony was Yosef Abramowitz, who posed with his daughter in the garden before entering the main hall.

President Herzog was not shaking hands as he entered the room with masked honorees and their guests. Not quite back to normal.

Masks are still the law inside for groups, but waving is allowed.

After speeches and a video of the impressive accomplishments of the five Olim, there was a photo-op with the President and Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tameno-Shete, who made aliyah from Ethiopia, and former head of Mossad Efraim Halevy.

In the field of sport, Sergei Vaisburg, the Olympic coach was honored and called up his gold medal-winning star pupil Artem Dologopyat to the stage.

The honorees in the center: a physician from South America, a musical artist from Ethiopia, a Ukrainian sports coach, a French linguist, and a solar energy innovator from the United States.

And here, at last, unmasked for another official photograph.

The second is the new Museum of Tolerance, which opened its doors to two big events, even though the outside areas are not completed.

The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference last year was only online but this year it was live and held inside the new museum. It was also broadcast.

While waiting to get a tag, (yes ID tags are back again) two years since the last one, I took this photo of the lobby area. Not my first photo attempt, but that one I cannot show you. A security officer with a dog walked by and was not happy to have his photo taken.

With the Israeli President and Prime Minister speaking first in the morning in the auditorium, there were multiple levels of security to get past.

Here is Sylvan Adams, one of the dozens of interviews over the course of the day which included Israeli Ministers, politicians, and tech leaders.

I missed the breakfast food and by noon was anxiously awaiting something to eat, and as you see I was not alone. It’s been so long since I attended an event I forgot to take along an emergency snack. Lox and cream cheese in a croissant seems to be the new “in” finger food.

Yossi Cohen’s interview comments on Iran were popular with the media. All the speakers have been written up and you can find them easily with a Google search.

So I will share what you did not see. Liat Goldhammer was speaking with Maayan Hoffman about their company’s process with fabrics that saves water in the thread-dying process.

These Sonova masks were all around, and it was a light bulb moment.

Who else remembered the Overall Festival at the Tower of David?

I heard the same pitch line two years ago with Shay Herchcovici, founder of Nano Textiles. I left the room to find Shay and confirm he was indeed the guy behind the Sonovia masks. Back to networking, at his request to meet someone important, I introduced him to Laurence Weinbaum, the director of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

The afternoon was filled with experts and panels,

and more panels, with lunch, served at 3:00 pm.

Hum, when was my last meal out? Hard to remember.

On a program that ran late most of the day, Mike Pompeo was early.

He did not stick around long but stopped for a few minutes to speak in the hall before leaving and returning to the US.

Now for the third location of interest: in a blog, I did on the exhibit highlighting the British Mandate at the Tower of David, the exhibit on the British contributions and changes, included movies.

How many times have I walked by quickly and ignored these golden arches on Shamai Street?

But on Thursday night I entered the Cinema Hostel, one of the “new from old” tourist lodgings dotting the center of Jerusalem around King George and Ben Yehudah Streets.

As a fan of a previous Tour de Sound tour, we accepted an invitation to hear music from old movies. John Williams and Raiders of Lost Ark was great to start an evening of musical Cinema Nostalgia, performed by Daniel and Yedidia Schwarz with Paul Salter.

Aladdin was one of the more colorful videos on the screen.

From where we were seated, we could the kitchen and hostel guests walking by from time to time.

Guests’ rooms were located down the hall behind the musicians.

The media room is upstairs.

There is also a bar, which is kosher and dairy, and was filling up quickly as we left after the unique concert.

Not quite the same as the 1,400 seat Orion Theater of old, but a different and unique way to spend an evening. Friends recalled going to the large old Israeli movie theaters, with bottles and garinim thrown on the floor.

So here were three events off the Jerusalem streets from this past week, as things appear to be getting back to normal, with masks and green passes.

Stay well and hope to see you soon.

Jerusalem Getting Back to Normal

People are slowly coming back onto the Jerusalem streets, like bears emerging slowly from hibernation, lumbering up from deep in their caves.

Recognizing friends you have not seen in over a year (or was it two?) whose faces are hidden behind a mask is not so easy. But what a pleasure it is to reunite and speak to people in real life, rather than via a computer screen.

Weddings with bubbles and brides! What could be better this week? Albeit with caution and held outside, but celebrations are back, better than last year and with anticipation and enthusiasm.

Organized tour groups have returned to the Jerusalem streets.

The Kotel (Western Wall) train is back in business.

Not your usual train tunnel

or usual train track,

but the Kotel train, love it or hate it, is back on the Jerusalem streets.

Inside and even outside the walls of the Old City, photoshoots for bar mitzvahs and other celebrations are common again.

Shopping at Mamilla Mall? Masks are needed inside stores, but not outside.

The cats are not back, they never left the Jerusalem streets. Need at least one cat photo, here in the new parking lot in the Armenian Quarter.

Parking in Jerusalem has never been easy, but these workers found a convenient spot on the sidewalk near the construction area at the Paris Fountain.

Remember the parking lot at Shaare Zedek hospital that opened up and swallowed cars? Repair work has progressed, but the area is still not back to normal.

Construction outside the hospital parking area is only part of the story.

The work on the new Route 16 nearby is extensive.

Mountains of dirt are being moved, and

tunnels are emerging from underground.

On the other side of Shmuel Bait Street, there is more huge equipment.

Part of the mountain is gone to make room for new lanes of traffic.

A whole new scene awaits when you return to these Jerusalem streets.

As mentioned last week the Jerusalem Marathon is back!

The Sports Expo returns for two days, October 26-28, at a new venue in the Jerusalem Cinema City, before the Friday marathon races.

Will the new children’s playground at Sacher Park be ready in time?

Participants will see new buildings in the city center as they run by.

The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference is to be held at the new The Museum of Tolerance building. Last year it was held online.

Israeli President House lunch for German delegation in Jerusalem Israel

Andrea Merkel is back again. Three years ago this was the table set for the German Chancellor at a special lunch at Beit Hanasi, with then-President Reuven Rivlin and Israeli Nobel Prize winners. This time no media, private lunch for two, but I did see her motorcade leave.

The First Station parking lot has been full at night. People are back in large numbers. But, the winter igloos have popped up for those who still need more time in a cave and are not ready to party in crowds.

Here’s to celebrating, coming back, and enjoying life.

Hope to see you soon on the Jerusalem streets!