(photo credit: Mark Neiman\GPO)
Amid the wealth of Succot festivities going on all over the country, Beit Hanassi hosted the president’s annual succa open house on Monday, following an intensive campaign to promote the event.
In the past, the president’s succa has been decorated by schoolchildren. This year it was decorated and designed by the Agriculture Ministry, which made sure to incorporate the best of the country’s agricultural products, including a long floral centerpiece of large burnt orange and white flowers sitting amid green leaves and ferns. The overall effect was that of the hanging gardens of Babylon, with single flowers in narrow glass tubes suspended at different levels from the thatched roof of the succa.
Monday was designed for family entertainment. The colorful exotic fruits instantly caught the eyes of young children, and many a parent exclaimed, “Look, a red banana!” There was even more family fun at the exhibits sponsored by the Science and Technology Ministry, where the inclusion of exhibits from the Ariel University Center seemed to affirm the West Bank city as an integral part of Israel.
Visitors were also drawn to the group of six robots that looked like American football players, as well as another exhibition of robotics, and the Israel Space Agency’s Shavit launcher Stage 3, produced by the MLM Division of the Israel Aerospace Industry to launch Ofek satellites – the first of which was launched in 1988, and the most recent on June 22 of this year.
Israel is one of only nine countries in the world with satellite launch capability.
There was also a duo of accordionists singing nostalgic and patriotic songs, as well as singers and folk dancers from different parts of the country.
Attendance was relatively low. In the past there were long queues of people on both sides of Beit Hanassi well in advance of the opening of the gates, but this year the queues were minimal.
Some visitors attributed this to the fact that unlike his predecessors, President Shimon Peres does not spend hours standing in the succa shaking hands with the passing throng.
This time, in fact, he hardly mingled at all, having returned to Israel from the United States late the previous afternoon.
He did, however, pose for photographs with children, exchanging a few words with them – and when it came to formalities, it was to the children rather than the adults that he addressed his remarks, saying that Succot was the festival most associated with peace and that he hoped they would grow up knowing neither war nor hatred.
Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon noted that Succot was a festival rooted in agriculture, “which is Israel’s great success story.” Israel is an acknowledged global expert in that field, he said, and much larger countries turn to Israel for agricultural know-how and technology.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz was similarly proud of the country’s scientific achievements, which, he said, have turned Israel into a modern miracle and have transformed a people persecuted for centuries into what the world regards as a major power.
Large and powerful countries want to buy what Israel has developed scientifically, he said.
While it was the president’s turn to play host on Monday, on Tuesday he will be a guest in the succot of Rabbis Ovadia Yosef, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.
It is a tradition for the president to visit each of the chief rabbis of Israel in their succot, but a much longer tradition to visit Shas spiritual mentor and former Sephardi chief rabbi Yosef, whom Peres also visited in his previous leadership capacities. The two men have a relationship spanning decades.