Rivlin hosts the nation

Celebrating Sukkot with fresh fruit, dancing, long lines and photo-ops at the President’s Residence.

President Rivlin decorating his Sukkah (photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
President Rivlin decorating his Sukkah
(photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
Bob Dylan wrote in 1963 that “the times, they are a changing,” and this has certainly been evident in the open house sukkah of President Reuven Rivlin throughout the years he has been in office.
With the exception of Shimon Peres, Rivlin’s predecessors stood for hours in the sukkah, shaking the hands of thousands of visitors and obligingly posing for photos.
The reception line was abolished after Peres became president, because his staff considered it to be too tiring for a man of his advanced age to stand for such a long period. However, Peres went out at frequent intervals to talk to the crowd.
In previous years, the doors opened early in the morning before it became unbearably hot for those standing in line.
This year, the doors opened at 10 a.m., and even though there were long strips of awning on either side of the presidential compound, the lines of people with hordes of restless children stretched way beyond the awning for nearly an hour before the doors opened.
Many of the children were unwilling to stay, and one mother was overheard telling her son to pretend he was in line for his turn on the roller coaster at Luna Park.
“This is not much different,” she said.
Nothing at the President’s Residence could quite compete with the roller coaster, but there were a lot of things grabbing people’s interest once they got past the security check.
Just inside the gate was a lively klezmer quartet. Further along, there was a ground floor makeshift balcony with a figure supposedly of Herzl sporting a bushy, black beard and leaning over the balcony railing that emulated Basel in Jerusalem. Israelis simply love to be photographed, and the line to take a picture with the ersatz Herzl on the ersatz balcony was nearly as long as the lines outside.
Because the event was sponsored by the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, the overriding theme of the exhibits and games was Jerusalem from ancient times to the present day, focusing on the City of David and the Temple Mount. An educational game that fascinated the children was how to be an archaeologist. The youngsters were shown shards of excavations and told how to identify them by washing them down with a sprinkler or a hose, and then sort them out into buckets labeled metal, precious stones, mosaics, bone, glass and pottery.
For kids and adults alike, there was a proper display case of larger items found in excavations labeled in accordance with their categories and places in the history of civilization.
Inside the main reception area, people could see themselves on video screens, or see the past and the future of Jerusalem through 4-D glasses.
There were also displays of ancient books and manuscripts from the Israel National Library as well as selected items from the Library’s National Sound Archive, which contains the world’s largest collection of Israeli and Jewish music.
Inside the sukkah, the theme was taken from one of the national symbols, which is grape clusters. There were grapes dangling from the ceiling, and the displays were mostly of assorted species of grapes. Flower arrangements were in enormous grape-shaped glass containers, which would have made great decanters if anyone could lift them to the table. There was also a wine press for show, and a couple of rows of wooden barrels for storing the wine as it ages.
Outside the sukkah, there were colorful displays of Israeli fruits and vegetables, including several species of different fruits. Organic farmers from around the Dead Sea were giving away delicious dates, grapes, oranges, mandarins, apples, nuts and peppers. On the lawns, groups of dancers were entertaining the masses, and at one stage, even invited visitors to join them.
Early in the day, before there were too many people around, Rivlin toured the grounds with Minister for Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ze’ev Elkin – and like so many other Israelis, posed for a photo with the ersatz Herzl on the ersatz balcony.
Later in the morning at 11 a.m., Rivlin emerged with his key entourage and headed into the main reception area, but remained behind a barrier that extended to the outdoor area beneath the pergola at the entrance to the hall.
The crowd surged forward to photograph him and try to shake his hand.
Rivlin and his people stayed behind the barrier, though he did shake many hands as he walked along it to greet people outside before addressing the crowd at large and telling them they are wonderful and that they had come from all over Israel “to your sukkah in the President’s Residence which belongs to all Israelis, and all are welcome and all are equal and happy alongside each other.”
This is one of Rivlin’s pet themes – this fallacy that the President’s Residence belongs to every Israeli. Try getting in on any other day of the year if you don’t have an invitation or an appointment – it’s almost impossible.
Even getting out was difficult, because security sealed off all exits other than the one from the back of the building, which put a needless strain on people heading to areas in the direction of Jaffa Street and beyond.
But this was not the only example of lack of forethought and of too many cooks spoiling the broth. With all the different entities involved in preparations, little consideration was given to the many tourists who come to Israel at this time. There were hardly any signs or brochures in English, Russian or French, and there were no seats for elderly or disabled visitors who found it difficult to stand or walk around.
Still, the high-quality fruit from the Dead Sea region compensated for all the faults. Israel has come a long way from specializing only in oranges!ac