While much attention during the Succot holiday has focused on Jerusalem and the tens of thousands of Israelis and foreign tourists visiting the city on the pilgrimage festival, a pluralist Jewish community in Tel Aviv has been attracting hordes of people to its massive succa at the fashionable Tel Aviv Port district.
Beit Tefilah Israeli, a pluralist Jewish community and organization in Tel Aviv, has erected for the third year in a row a gigantic, 650-square-meter kosher succa. It has filled it with thousands of people of different backgrounds, who participate in numerous activities, lectures, and prayer services arranged by the group.
According to Rani Jaeger, chairman of Beit Tefilah Israeli, secular, traditional national-religious and haredi people and families have all made use of the succa during the holiday, whether it has been to participate in the children’s activities that take place every morning, to eat in the succa, attend a lecture or study session, or to hold the afternoon prayer service.
Jaeger says that families from every conceivable background have brought their children to take part in the activities.
“We have had children from the Ashkenazi haredi community, children of African refugees, Sephardi haredi, national-religious, traditional, and secular kids all coming together in this succa, making it a really unique space in Israel,” Jaeger told The Jerusalem Post
The succa has been open since the first night of Succot, and will continue to provide activities right through to the end of the Simhat Torah holiday on Monday night, culminating in a pluralist musical celebration with the Torah known as Hakafot Shniot.
The big coming events will be a mass Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service on Friday night, and a hakafot ceremony on Sunday night for the Simhat Torah holiday celebrating the conclusion of the annual Torah-reading cycle and its immediate recommencement.
On every morning of the Succot holiday a musical prayer service is held in the giant succa, and different workshops, theatrical performances, music and singing sessions, folk dancing, yoga classes, concerts, lectures and study periods are held throughout the day.
“How many places in Israel could host on the one hand people from the haredi community, who come and pray the afternoon service in the succa, and then host liberal female rabbis leading a singing session?” asked Jaeger.
“Our succa is really succeeding in becoming a true ‘succat shalom’, succa of peace, and a space where people can meet around positive things and their common denominators.
“This is the real celebration here. We fight all the time, but there is a great Israeli yearning for a joint space which we can all share in a positive way. The succa is a microcosm of Israel for seven days, and the idea is that it carries the potential for the rest of the year. We have our differences, but this succa shows we can still sit together, eat and pray.”
Among other special events at the Succa during the week, Beit Tefila Israeli held a Prayer for the Peace of Nations Ceremony on Thursday night, in which Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders, together with ambassadors and foreign diplomatic officials, took part.
One of Beit Tefila Israeli’s religious leaders, Rabbi Leora Ezrachi-Vered, was joined at the ceremony by Father Francis, the superior of the Community of Beatitudes in Emmaus-Nicopolis near Latrun, and Ihab Balcha, a Sufi Muslim religious leader. Representatives from the embassies of Lithuania, El Salvador, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands was also present.
The center piece of the ceremony was the recital, in their own mother tongue, by the religious leaders and diplomatic representatives, of the prophetic verse from Isaiah: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The idea for the prayer ceremony was taken from the tradition during the Succot festival at the time of the ancient Jewish Temples in Jerusalem to sacrifice 70 bulls to bring blessings to the 70 nations of the world, as delineated by the Talmud.
“Given the alarming rise in racism and xenophobia, and the legitimacy given to these phenomena in Israeli public discourse, including the ways Jewish terrorism has reared its head in recent years, we see the need to resume this practice of reciting the prayer for the nations of the world on the festival of Succot,” said Jaeger.
“We did not renew the custom of sacrificing bulls, of course, but we have created a new prayer in the spirit of the Talmudic tradition appropriate for modern Israeli culture, which expresses the longing for peace and brotherhood among peoples - here, in the Middle East and in general.”