Watch: Ultra-Orthodox celebrations bring joy into the holiday of Sukkot

The Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebrations, which take place every night of Sukkot, are truly a unique carnival-like spectacle of happiness and celebration in the ultra-Orthodox world

The Grand Rabbi of the Viznitz Hassidic Dynasty (center) in his white holiday frock coat hosting Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Monday night at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva in the Viznitz world center in Bnei Brak. (photo credit: SHUKI LERRER)
The Grand Rabbi of the Viznitz Hassidic Dynasty (center) in his white holiday frock coat hosting Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Monday night at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva in the Viznitz world center in Bnei Brak.
(photo credit: SHUKI LERRER)
Sukkot is known as the “Time of Our Rejoicing,” and the stage for that joy in the ultra-Orthodox world, and the hassidic world in particular, is the celebratory extravaganzas known as “Simchat Beit Hashoeva.”
On Wednesday night, The Jerusalem Post paid a visit to the new, colossal Vizhnitz Hassidim World Center in Bnei Brak where thousands of hassidim from the Vizhnitz dynasty came to rejoice in the spirit of Sukkot in the presence of their “Admor,” or grand rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Hager.
In the immense central chamber of the world center, with an area of 2,400 sq.m. and reaching 18 meters high, hassidim dressed in their finest holiday attire swayed, danced and jumped to the sounds of ecstatic hassidic music pumped out of concert-quality sound systems, and urged on by Hager.
Row upon row of hassidic men standing on bleachers reaching high into the hall and garbed in black satin bekishes (frock coats), white shirts, and shtreimel or velvet samet fur hats, as befits their marital status, rejoiced at what is perhaps the most exuberant and ebullient event in the ultra-Orthodox calendar.
And the admor – the Hebrew acronym for “our master, our teacher and our rabbi” – dressed in a resplendent bekishe embroidered in gold, sat in the center of a stage at the front of the chamber, pumping his fists enthusiastically at the jubilant music to encourage his hassidim further.
The origin of the events of today’s Simchat Beit Hashoeva – “Rejoicing of the Drawing of the Water” – is the ceremony performed every day of Sukkot in Temple times, when the priestly and Levite castes would collect water from the Shiloah stream close to the Temple and pour it on the altar during the morning Temple sacrifice.
The Talmud states that anyone who never saw the rejoicing at the ceremonies for this elaborate procedure “has never seen rejoicing in his life.”
Today’s Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebrations, which take place every night of Sukkot, are truly a unique carnival-like spectacle of happiness and celebration in the ultra-Orthodox world, which is different in mood than the other events of the religious calendar.
Thousands of men and women throng the streets of Bnei Brak in the evening, meandering towards the celebration of their community; in the Kiryat Vizhnitz neighborhood, they stream toward the world center.
There are separate entrances for men and women into the central hall, with the women hosted in galleries on three floors overlooking the central space from behind a latticework wooden barrier through which they can watch the events below.
“It is like a festival, but it is a spirit of true happiness,” said one young hassid named Chaim Meir describing the atmosphere.
“It’s about being under the ‘shade of faith’ and being with the divine presence: That’s where the true happiness comes from,” he explained in the massive sukkah outside the main hall.
Mordechai, another hassid, described the happiness of the Simchat Bet Hashoeva as an “internal joy” derived from the “spiritual essence of Sukkot itself,” adding that for the hassidim, celebrating in front of their admor heightened the happiness even further.
And Haim Levy, another hassid attending the celebration, who is also the director of the Vizhnitz offices in New York, described the grand rabbi as “shining out to all his 5,000 families [of the Vizhnitz community]” and as being “full of joy and love for the Jewish people.”
Yehoshua Mandel, a deputy mayor of Bnei Brak and a member of the Vizhnitz community, said 5,000 to 6,000 people attend the Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebrations each night; the entire week cost NIS 2 million this year.
The hassidim come from Vizhnitz communities in different parts of the country, and specific communities are invited on specific nights.
The general atmosphere during Sukkot is convivial and relaxed, where the hassidim can really let their peyot [sidelocks] down, so to speak.
The morning prayer service starts at the late hour of 10 a.m., and those who have employment or businesses take a complete break from their work for the entire duration of the holiday.
The admor conducts a tisch, a celebratory meal at a long “table,” at 8 p.m. in the community sukkah, and the Simchat Beit Hashoeva begins an hour or so afterward.
Yisroel Cohen, an ultra-Orthodox journalist and commentator for the Kol Barama radio station who is from the Vizhnitz community, noted that for many years, the Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebrations were mostly restricted to some of the hassidic courts in Jerusalem.
Cohen said the current grand rabbi of Vizhnitz, even before he became the head of the court, had promoted these celebrations in the Vizhnitz community, but that they have now become a central feature of Sukkot.
“Now we’re talking about a community of thousands of people who come every night, and the celebrations on Sukkot are a source of inspiration for the whole community,” he said.
“This week provides a real opportunity to rejoice, and to unpack the energy of this week for the entire year. It is like a type of festival, although from a spiritual perspective.”