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!

New Year in Jerusalem

Happy and relieved, in Jerusalem, Israel, that the summer temperatures went down for Rosh Hashana, and Shabbat Shuvah was even cooler! We could leave the air conditioning off, open the windows, and open our table up for guests again. A very limited number, but 5782 started so differently than last year.

I went all out for the first night of Rosh Hashana, even took time for a photo. Who even remembers last year–it was so uneventful. One short strange week, but slowly getting back to ‘normal’.

Selihot, prayers said late at night, or early in the morning are the norm for this holiday season before Yom Kippur.

Thanks to the Western Wall live stream I could watch while sitting at my desk at home past midnight when they begin.

The crowd at the Kotel, Western Wall grew larger as the clock turned to 1:00 am. I took this image to show how many women were out in the middle of the night for the special prayers.

And here you see some of the divisions on the Kotel Plaza to keep with the changing and challenging corona limitations and regulations.

Last year selihot at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence was canceled due to COVID. But this year it was back again – though limited in number.

In the Beit Hanasi back garden near the synagogue, the pomegranate tree planted in memory of Nechama Rivlin z”l was bent over from its ripe fruit.

President Isaac Herzog hosted the annual Selihot at Beit Hanasi that Ruvi Rivlin started during his term as Israeli President.

Popular singers were back to perform and lead the prayers. This year pa’aytan  Lior Elmaleh and singer Uriel Shay were selected.

President Herzog spoke to the socially distanced audience, IDF soldiers in uniform, and the Beit Hanasi Synagogue regular minyan goers returned to attend selihot. The entire program was live-streamed on his social media channels.

The President was honored to open the ark of Torah scrolls as in the past.

No one sat inside this year, so it was easier to get a clear photo in the small empty synagogue.

Will people return to synagogues after so long attending outdoor street services? Many people in Jerusalem have become comfortable just walking out their front door or listening over the back fence for services, some daily, and many on Shabbat, and including this past Rosh Hashana.

The Presidential cat made an appearance at the late-night selihot.

These attendees were mostly soldiers. However, there are multiple large selihot planned for this week, the Jerusalem Municipality at Kikar Safra and of course the Kotel, and plenty of selihot tours.

Yesterday was September 11th which marked twenty years since terrorists attacked the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon. The thousands of lives taken by the suicide plane hijackers are remembered annually at the 9/11 Memorial location off the main road to Jerusalem.

The memorial commemoration is very limited this year.

Jerusalem memorial to victims of September 11 flowers placed on names of murdered.

However, before the corona, Remembering September 11 was typical.

All the names of the murdered are recorded on the walls of the monument.

United Airline pilots place flowers at memorial for victims of September 11

Pilots would place flowers near names they remembered.

Sobering.

Sad.

Twenty years later.

I cannot remember last year, but I remember the week prior to Rosh Hashana after 9/11 so well. We lived near Washington, DC, and the Pentagon. Our son was coming to spend the holidays with us, and was on a Lufthansa flight from Israel to Dulles Airport, due to land around 1:00 pm on September 11, 2001. His plane diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, and he was fortunate to make it out of Canada on the last flight, in order to be home for the holiday. Others were not so fortunate.

Now to end on a positive note!

A short video clip of selihot at Beit Hanasi this week.

And resharing a favorite from years past…

May all have a sweet and healthy year.

Here’s hoping to see you soon on the Jerusalem streets!

גמר חתימה טובה

May you be sealed for a good year