Israeli history photo of the week: Succot 100 years ago

American Colony Photographic Department photos of succot over 40 year period with pictures of Bukharan, Yemenite and Ashkenazi succot.

old succa ashkenazi 311 (photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)
old succa ashkenazi 311
(photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)
The Library of Congress has recently digitalized a collection of over 10,000 photographs, taken by the "American Colony" in Jerusalem, a group of Christian utopians who lived in Jerusalem between 1881 and the 1940s. The photographers returned to the US, and bequeathed their massive collection to the Library of Congress in 1978. The collection includes Winston Churchill's visit to Jerusalem, Jewish expulsions from the Old City during Arab riots, and the building of Tel Aviv.

As soon as the Yom Kippur fast day is over many Jews start preparations for the Succot (Tabernacles) holiday.  It usually involves building a succa, a temporary structure -- sometimes just a hut -- with a thatched roof, in which Jews eat and often sleep during the seven day holiday. The photographers of the American Colony Photographic Department took photos of succot structures over a 40 year period, preserving pictures of Bukharan, Yemenite and Ashkenazi succot. Several photographs include the Jewish celebrants holding four species of plants traditionally held during prayers on the Succot holiday --  a citron fruit and willow, myrtle and palm branches.
Even though the succa is a temporary structure, some families moved their furniture and finery into the succa, as is evident in some of the pictures.Bukhari Jews, shown in pictures from around 1900, were part of an ancient community from what is today the Central Asian country Uzbekistan. They started moving to the Holy Land in the mid-1800s. Yehia, the Yemenite Jew pictured, was almost certainly part of a large migration of Jews who arrived in Jerusalem in the 1880s, well before the famous "Magic Carpet" operation that brought tens of thousands to the new state of Israel during 1949 and 1950.The last picture on the right, taken in a very large Jerusalem succa belonging to the Goldsmidt family, shows the tapestries and fabrics on the wall of the succa.  Close examination shows that the fabric contains Arabic words, even some hung upside down.  Several experts were asked this week to comment on the Arabic.  One senior Israeli Arab affairs correspondent wrote, "It is apparently some quotes that I can read but do not amount to anything coherent, written in Kufi style of Arabic... [I] would not be surprised if these are Kuranic verses."Presumably the Goldsmidts and their guests didn't know about the Arabic phrases either. More photos can be viewed at