Thousands of people came to the president’s succa on Wednesday to greet President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama.
“We don’t need proof of our connection to Jerusalem. It is evident in the multitudes who have come from all over to Jerusalem, to join in our Succot celebrations,” said Rivlin.
The theme of this year’s celebration was Blue and White. The first thing that visitors saw as they entered the grounds was an arch of blue and white balloons. Immediately past that was a stand bearing several national flags.
Nearby was a huge billboard showing the different phases of the manufacturing process, and beyond that several digital screens with quizzes on products, patents and innovation.
For people who didn’t know all the answers, the quizzes were a great means of informal education, with little known facts as, for instance, that the game of Rummikub is an Israeli invention, and that 6,000 patent applications are made in Israel each year.
The succa itself was quite differently and uniquely decorated, in comparison to past years. Instead of crates and trays of fruits and vegetables, most, with the exception of heavy items such as grapefruit and pomegranates, were arranged in framed collages like works of art, and hung on the wall.
Extraordinarily creative in their beauty, they drew many admiring comments, especially when people realized that they were looking at the real thing and not at plastic imitations. “We have to renew ourselves all the time, because everything we create dies within days” said edible art designer Shahar Gil.
Outside the succa was a display of drones, courtesy of the Science, Technology and Space Ministry in cooperation with the Israel Space Agency and the various manufacturers of aerospace equipment. On the lawns were rattan mats with colored bean bags, which proved to be a boon to large families.
There were also exhibits of aromatic herbs and spices and new blends of wine plus loads of games for the numerous children, most of whom were under the age of 10. There was also live musical entertainment.
As always, there were lots of baby carriages, but older people with mobility problems were not deterred from joining the throng. They came in wheelchairs, with walkers, on crutches, and leaning on canes – and many of them stood in line for a long time before they gained entry. They are the ones who don’t take Israel for granted, because they remember a time when there was no Jewish state and no President’s Residence to open to the public on Succot.
There were a couple of unpleasant moments, such as when Michael Rainsbury, head of the British desk at World Bnei Akiva, brought a group of British BA youngsters who are in Israel on a Torah program, and was asked by two different staff members to move his people out to make room for others. The reason they were hanging around was that they had an appointment with a senior member of the president’s staff, who apparently was unknown to the lower echelons who had asked them to move.
■ DESPITE SPENDING much of the day walking through the grounds of the presidential compound, where he was mobbed by people taking selfies with him, Rivlin found time on Wednesday to meet with a group of German priests and with Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2011 for leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War.
Gbowee, who was in Israel as the guest of honor of Women Wage Peace, travels the world speaking about gender-based violence and the role that women can play in peace efforts in conflict countries. Rivlin greeted her warmly and invited her to return to Israel. “We greatly appreciate the way in which you have shown leadership throughout the years,” he said. “It is true that people say that it is the result that counts, but it is clear to us that the path is no less significant, and the bringing together of people, and later peoples. Your actions are a true inspiration.”
■ AT THE huge Women Wage Peace demonstration adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence that culminated a twoweek march that began in Rosh Hanikra, and was attended by thousands of Jewish and Palestinian women and several men, including Gad Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, who lost both legs on the last day of Operation Protective Edge, Gbowee declared that the regional war has been going on for far too long, and small children who might have become doctors, lawyers, hi-tech entrepreneurs and more have lost their lives, while mothers on both sides are left to mourn and to grieve.
The message that went out from the demonstration was that peace is possible and that the two sides must sit down and negotiate. Mazen Gnaim, mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of the Council of Arab Mayors, underscored that it is only a short ride from Jerusalem to Ramallah, and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to sit down and talk until white smoke emanates from the chimney. “Peace is the strength and the iron dome of Israeli society,” he said.
■ KNOWN TO be among the most hospitable people in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Pamela and Aba Claman have opened their home and their hearts to thousands of people – Israelis and tourists alike – over the years.
They have special affection for Israeli soldiers, who they believe should be thanked in every way possible for laying their lives on the line in defense of the nation. The Clamans are the founders of Thank Israeli Soldiers, an international organization headquartered in Jerusalem, which inter alia strengthens the connection of IDF soldiers to their Jewish heritage, creates R&R facilities for them, provides them with care packages and devises various leisure time programs for them.
Along with numerous other guests, the Clamans have a dozen and more soldiers for Sabbath meals and also provide massive barbecues for them on their bases. Along the way they’ve also collected a lot of volunteers from Israel and abroad, who help in the work and in the funding of projects.
One such volunteer from the United States, who counts himself as a member of “Aba’s Brigade,” thinks so highly of Aba Claman that this week, for Claman’s 70th birthday, he specially flew into Israel in the morning and left on the same night to return home.
The Clamans also have huge Succot parties in their spacious and elegant rooftop succa, which overlooks the Temple Mount and offers a perfect view of al-Aksa Mosque. One of their neighbors put up a rooftop succa which, from some angles, blocks the view, and has a painting of the yet-to-be-built Third Temple on its outer walls.
In previous years, it was Pamela Claman’s birthday that was celebrated on Succot, but with her husband having a landmark birthday, she put her own birthday on the back burner. Adding to the festivities were various live musicians playing different styles of music, as scores of guests drifted in and out.
■ SUCCOT IS an ideal period in which to talk about the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the ancient Temple, of which Simhat Beit Hasho’eva is a reminder.
Throughout the intermediate days of Succot during Temple times, there was a libation ceremony in which the water was drawn from the Shiloah Pool in the City of David and transported from there for 600 meters along the pilgrims’ road to the Temple Mount.
Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri, at a mammoth Shas rally at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem, referred to the UNESCO vote that abrogates the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Western Wall, saying that anyone who had participated in or witnessed the Birkat Kohanim ceremony at the Western Wall on Wednesday morning and the thousands of people who had congregated there could not fail to recognize the connection. “This is our answer to UNESCO,” he said.
■ PROTESTS OVER the UNESCO vote were echoed all over the country, not just in Jerusalem.
Protests of another nature were the order of the day in a succa set up by Palmah veterans who fought in the Harel Brigade under the command of Yitzhak Rabin in the War of Independence, taking command of the Jerusalem corridor and opening the road to Sha’ar Hagai, also known as Bab el-Wad and immortalized in a song written by Haim Gouri, with music by Shmuel Fershko and sung by Yaffa Yarkoni.
The area which memorializes the bloody battle for control of Bab el-Wad and contains remnants of the Harel armored vehicles will, according to a government decision, be renamed after slain government minister Rehavam Ze’evi, who though a member of the Palmah, who even named his son Palmah, was not a member of the Harel Brigade, and did not participate in the battles in which it engaged.
The veterans consider it a travesty, and an insult to those of their comrades who fell in battle and to their families, to attach Ze’evi’s name to the area. Hundreds of visitors came to see them and hear their stories.
Among the visitors was Yuval Rabin, the son of their late firstname.lastname@example.org