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.

Holiday Highlights in Jerusalem

The sounds of regular rush-hour traffic fill the Jerusalem streets.

Schools are in session and students are back in their classrooms.

The holidays are over. It’s officially “After the Chagim.”

While international tourists were still few and far between, this year was a huge improvement over last year.

It is a good time to review and share some of the holiday highlights.

Jaffa Gate was open and part of a Sukkah still remained outside after Sukkot as visitors came and went in the pleasant weather.

The ‘Shana Tova! In Jerusalem’ banner was still draped over the entrance to Machane Yehuda market.

These visitors from outside Israel were still in holiday dress and mode on Wednesday, as they walked and watched the heavy traffic slowly move by.

Going to Birkat Cohanim at the Kotel, Western Wall, I saw a tall redheaded man entering by way of Jaffa Gate past the Tower of David.

What are the odds that I would see him leaving later?

Every year more women are seen carrying the lulav for Sukkot.

Our sukkah is packed away now. Those nice greens have wilted away, but all was ready in time for the holiday celebrations.

The holidays are over, but some of the annual receptions resumed.

There was a full house for the annual Diplomat Rosh Hashanah reception at Beit Hanasi to start off the holiday season.

President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal personally greeted the Ambassadors to Israel at the President’s Residence.

Last year, President Reuven Rivlin was only able to host an online event and for most of the past year, visitors to the President’s Residence were limited.

Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid arrived in time for the l’chaim.

Diplomats lined up for an introduction and photo op with the President.

September began with six new Ambassadors presenting their credentials. A highlight was the arrival of the first Ambassador from Bahrain.

The orange juice was specially prepared for his toast, as he would not be having the usual white wine.

The Israeli President hosted a musical selihot event before Yom Kippur outside in the garden, not in the synagogue, and it was broadcast live.

Sanitation workers in the Jerusalem municipality emptied 12,000 tons of garbage throughout the city from the eve of September 20 until Wednesday morning, September 29.

They were out cleaning the streets as soon as the holidays were over, but the peak in garbage removal in Jerusalem was recorded after Rosh Hashanah when more than 3,000 tons of garbage were emptied in one day. 

The Jerusalem Municipality estimates that hundreds of thousands of people visited and spent time at the religious, cultural, and tourist sites of Jerusalem, and toured the city’s landscapes during the Sukkot holidays.

The large Birkat Cohanim, Priestly Blessing, was held twice to accommodate more people in a less crowded manner. The big sukkah in the back of the plaza was busy, but the crowd on the first day was indeed a fraction of regular years. I was pleased to get this view from a restricted area.

I spotted a man standing near the Kotel with the tallest lulav of the year.

While thousands visited the Kotel and the main religious sites, many more visited the tourist sites in the Old City, including the Tower of David Museum, the Promenade Walls, the sites of the Jewish Quarter, and the City of David.

The main attraction after the Old City was the Mayor’s Sukkah in Safra Square which was visited by tens of thousands of people during the days of Sukkot.

Beit Hanasi did not have an open sukkah this year, but high above the Jerusalem streets, sukkot were built:

a simple sukkah on a small porch,

and a more elaborate sukkah here to accommodate many more people.

I almost missed this sukkah,

but this white fabric walled sukkah placed in a large Jerusalem public park area stood alone and was a standout this year.

Even with limited tourists, some of the Waldorf Residences had sukkot.

And music filled the Jerusalem streets, with Klezmer performances,

musicians at the Islamic Museum Coffee Festival,

the band for a ‘Heroines of the Palmach’ festival,

a lone musician at Zion Square,

and colorful entertainment and crowds on Ben Yehudah Street.

Plus, there were more Simhot Beit HaShoeva than I could count.

Wandering the Jerusalem streets, I never found these friends home. However, we did see some old friends, but sorry, no Shabbat camera.

On Sukkot, you could hear the voices of outdoor prayers from the Jerusalem street minyanim and the synagogues.

Mamilla Mall was busy for the holidays, and these friends appreciated the artwork displayed here.

As soon as the holiday was over, in Mamilla Mall the sukkot were taken down, and being stored for next year.

The giant sukkah in Kikar Safra was gone as soon as the holidays were over. New signs were posted, announcing plans for the much-postponed 10th Jerusalem Marathon.

It is to run on Friday, October 29th is just before the clocks change and it gets dark early.

Still not enough Sukkot photos? You can find more – HERE

The New Year signs were still up near Sacher Park.

It’s still appropriate to wish a good year in good health to all.

Hope to see you all again on the Jerusalem streets.

Even in Jerusalem, we sang “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Sights and Sounds of Sukkot in Jerusalem

This time of year in Jerusalem, Israel, as the temperatures cool down and the Sukkot holiday season begins people come out of their homes, and the streets are filled with new strange sights and sounds.

In the Old City, in the Rova, the Jewish Quarter, there were many sukkot.

This large sukkah was at the Kotel, at the back of the Western Wall Plaza, and many more sukkot were visible above.

The festive Birkat Cohanim the holiday Priestly Blessing was scheduled for two days, not just one, to spread out the crowds and limit size and numbers attending this year for Sukkot.

Police and security were in place for the masses, but as you see on Wednesday, there were more security barriers than people at Jaffa Gate.

Inside Jaffa Gate, people went to pass through the Arab Shuk, as it was relatively quiet also.

Dignitaries were positioned to the left and up above the crowd at the Wall.

The whole service was broadcast live and available on YouTube both days.

I have come to Birkat Cohanim before, but certainly, on Wednesday, the scene was not like the usual as in 2012.

There was room for people to move freely, with the special security personnel wearing purple vests checking that everyone had a mask.

For the two minutes of the Birkat Cohanim, most people stood quietly. From this angle, the scene appeared similar to the past. It was so hot in the sun that my camera overheated, so I didn’t get a video.

But I did get a few minutes of the Musaf service to share with you. The choir added a more musical touch and length to the prayer service.

But Sukkot is about the sukkot, those “huts” or “illegal structures” that pop up and around the Jerusalem streets for this holiday week.

This one I had not noticed before and I’m not sure who built it.

I wondered how many others noticed it way up there over the Kotel Plaza?

Look up and you can see sukkot on porches, wooden ones and simple ones,

a sukkah on a Jerusalem porch with a wall of colorful fabric,

or made of wood with flower boxes.

The King David Hotel didn’t have the usual huge sukkah in their parking lot, but it looked like something was on the roof.

The Jerusalem Theater had a sukkah in front near the main entrance.

Some were placed on Jerusalem street corners.

This one was not new, but in a new location, off the new main sidewalk.

The giant sukkah in Kikar Safra was back. Who remembers that it was featured in one of the early RJS posts 11 years ago?

It is big, public, and with special times for the Jerusalem Mayor and his wife to greet the public.

Similar to old times, Mayor Moshe Lion and his wife, stood and posed for photo after photo. New, security checked for a green pass and mask to enter.

Across Jaffa Road from the Jerusalem Municipality is Shushan Street, dressed in new colors for the Sukkot holiday crowds to appreciate.

On Jaffa Road was a Chabad sukkah available for one to stop and make their holiday blessings.

But on the other side of the light rail tracks, Jaffa Road was lined with sukkot from the various food places for their customers to sit and eat.

Thursday evening families crowded around the various entertainers,

performers were every few meters, and other musicians were nearby.

Not sure what this was on Ben Yehudah Street, but it did get my attention.

One of several couples performing – more photos on Facebook – HERE

There were the traditional holiday sights in the Old City.

But this year for the first time there was a neighborhood street festival called The Heroines of the Palmach – for those interested, see more Here

Our sukkah was up and ready, and decorated in time for a photo, and happily withstood the wind and a little light rain.

Though we kept the meals much smaller than usual, it was good to have guests again after last year’s limitations.

We are only partway thru the holiday week, with Hashana Raba and Simhat Torah coming to make this another “short” week ahead. As we ask and try to remember each morning “what day is this”? More holiday events are planned, limited in scope, but at least happening much more than last year.

Shana Tova! In Jerusalem, signs are posted near major Jerusalem parks.

Here’s hoping this will be a healthy and good year for all!