Herzogs host their first open house for Sukkot

Although Herzog was already in office last Sukkot, the pandemic scare was still dominating life in Israel, and it was decided that there would be no open house to safeguard public health.

 President Isaac Herzog sets up a sukkah at the President's Residence (photo credit: PRESIDENT'S RESIDENCE)
President Isaac Herzog sets up a sukkah at the President's Residence
(photo credit: PRESIDENT'S RESIDENCE)

President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, hosted their first open house for Sukkot at the President’s Residence on Thursday.

Although Herzog was already in office last Sukkot, the pandemic scare was still dominating life in Israel, and it was decided that there would be no open house to safeguard public health.

Presidents of Israel have frequently told the public that the President’s Residence is the house of the people.

The only time there is any truth to that statement is on Sukkot, when the president invites anyone and everyone to his sukkah, pending a passport or ID card to confirm their identities – though neither document is required for children.

Visitor voyeurism 

 The Stanleigh family sit inside their sukka, or ritual booth, used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in their yard, in Jerusalem October 14, 2019. Picture taken October 14, 2019. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) The Stanleigh family sit inside their sukka, or ritual booth, used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in their yard, in Jerusalem October 14, 2019. Picture taken October 14, 2019. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

During a regular function, the most that visitors will see of the inside of the building will be the main hall, the waiting room (which used to be a cloakroom) and the toilets. Sometimes they may also get to see the small reception room that leads off the main hall.

On Sukkot, they get to see the main hall and the large sukkah on the rear patio, but that’s it as far as exploring the building goes. If they need to use the toilet, they use one of the portable toilets in the gardens of the presidential complex. The indoor toilets are barricaded, as is the rest of the building and part of the gardens.

Because the open house coincided with the annual Jerusalem March, which always takes place on Sukkot, there were fewer people than in previous years, though there were crowds in spurts, and some of the visitors came from long distances.

One group, which included an accordionist, came from Dimona and lustily sang “Simona MiDimona” while waiting in line to enter the compound.

Inside the grounds, there were various games and musical entertainment for the children, but the entertainment was not ongoing, and the only available refreshment was water.

The most popular outdoor attraction appeared to be slightly curved, large distorting mirrors that created false images of the people who stood in front of them. Both adults and children suddenly saw themselves as being much taller or having much more girth and were utterly fascinated.

Pollution awareness 

Indoors, in the main hall, there was a very creative sound-and-light program about the pollution caused by plastic bags. It was conceived and produced by Ilan Azriel, written and directed by Udi Gottchalk and narrated by Eli Gorenstein. Actors inside giant plastic tubes waved every which way, and the message of how such pollution could affect the earth and the sea fired the imaginations of all the spectators, many of whom were in awe. The scenery for this production included giant white balloons plus some even larger ones that resembled a globe with an abstract map of the world.

The themes promoted at the overall event included combating global warming, saving planet earth from pollution, guaranteeing food security and sustainability, and the versatility of Israeli agricultural produce.

People filing out of the main hall into the sukkah were impressed with some of the Israeli produce, though there was less of it on display than in previous years, and the sukkah was not as artistically decorated. One woman visitor who looked at the inviting six species of cherry tomatoes wanted to buy some and became angry when told that they were just on show and not for sale.

At the last open house that was hosted by president Reuven Rivlin, farmers brought dates, tomatoes, citrus products and grapes, which they distributed to all the visitors. People who attended that open house expected to be feted again, but it didn’t happen.

The Herzogs emerged intermittently from their private quarters to greet their guests and to circulate a little and pose for selfies.

The president asked who had come the longest distance, and who was closest to the residence, thanking everyone for coming.

Aware of the rain clouds hovering in the sky, and the smell of rain in the air, Herzog credited his wife with keeping the rain at bay.

“I worked very hard at it,” she concurred, adding that they were both very happy to see so many people from all over the country come to Jerusalem to be hosted in their sukkah.