Sukkot in Israel – ושמחת בחגך

People file into the trail quietly and excitedly as the sun rises over Mount Scopus. It’s the annual Jerusalem “march”, a word that doesn’t quite describe for me tze’ada, which is more of a national walk. A decades’ long tradition, years ago it was a three-day-hike from different routes in the hills around, like the pilgrimage of old. As teens, we’d go with various youth groups, sleep in tents and walk into the city for the finale march, dirty, sweaty, with blistery feet, sunburned face and oh, so proud. For various reasons – the logistics of that ordeal became nightmare’ish and dangerous, and the event shortened to a single day happening. There are still three routes: 12km for the hardcore, 9km for the undecided and 5km for families and those needing wheels. Of course, I have to take the first option, which means starting from Ammunition Hill in northern Jerusalem, now a national memorial site and once a fortified Jordanian military post, a place known for its Six-Day-War bloody battle.

The route goes through Mount Scopus and a newly planted olive grove area, which has become an active nature and agriculture learning center run by the Society for Protection of Nature. People of many ages come there to learn about and care for the trees, pick and prepare its oil. Further down, there’s an archeological sifting site, where scientists and volunteers search for ancient coins and other artifacts; then we come upon Gethsemane church with its urban garden at the foot of Mount of Olives facing the closed Gate of Mercy, and onwards, up the stairs to The City of David with its beautiful Jerusalem Archeological Park and its exhibit of coins and findings from Second Temple Days. The tze’ada is organized so there’s enough time to detour and see the sites along the way while not losing the pace. We are constantly joined by more people, creating that pilgrimage feeling described in Isaiah 2:2:

In the days to come, The Mount of the Lord’s House Shall stand firm above the mountains And tower above the hills; And all the nations Shall gaze on it with joy.

A stream of people flows up, passing by Zion Gate and Mount Zion to Yemin Moshe and into Rehavia, by the home of Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, which is open to visitors (waiting in an all too long line…) onward along the trail through “Valley of the Cross” (–), overlooking the Israel Museum and Shrine of the Book, entering Sacher Park, where part one of the “walk” ends with music – singer Nasrin Kadri is warmly welcomed performing a mix of Hebrew and Arabic tunes; there’s are food booths and kids’ activities and bounce-houses and photo ops and more. The scene is somehow all reminiscent of San Francisco’s past Israel in the Gardens: it was created to be a reminder of Israel, and now Israel is a reminder of it…

Part two is a festive march through the city for which groups around the big lawn practice, tambourines at hand, waving flags, singing marching tunes. That’s when it dawns on me that the flags around include not only those of Israeli banks, hospitals and other local organizations, but, those of many nations. When I ask one lady, she tells me she’s part of a group from China, that they pray for us daily and love, love the Jewish people and the holy city of Jerusalem; she thanks me for being an Israeli…. Her husband meanwhile hands little red flags to kids around. When I was a child (and dinosaurs roamed the earth), we used to sing songs about how the whole world is against us; meeting people from china was complicated to say the least, let alone in Israel. And here we’re all chatting together. Then a group from Ivory Coast marches up in orange, white and green, flags in hand, big smiles of their faces, and then, on the other side, a group sporting a big sign, “South Korea” with big and little flags, the ladies behind in traditional dresses and lovely traditional umbrellas; right behind them there is another group with an Australian flag, while at the same time on the lawn in front of us, a news reporter talking to a Dutch couple, looking for a lady from Sweden…

Matching prophecies and history is much safer to do in great retrospect, and yet, when seeing all this, as best I can with the tears in my eyes, it is hard not to think of the words of the prophet Zachariah (chapter 8 and elsewhere):

כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה שַׁ֚בְתִּי אֶל־צִיּ֔וֹן וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּת֣וֹךְ יְרֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְנִקְרְאָ֤ה יְרוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ עִ֣יר־הָֽאֱמֶ֔ת וְהַר־יְהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת הַ֥ר הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ׃ (ס)

Thus said the LORD: I have returned to Zion, and I will dwell in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be called the City of Faithfulness, and the mount of the LORD of Hosts the Holy Mount.

כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת עֹ֤ד יֵֽשְׁבוּ֙ זְקֵנִ֣ים וּזְקֵנ֔וֹת בִּרְחֹב֖וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְאִ֧ישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּ֛וֹ בְּיָד֖וֹ מֵרֹ֥ב יָמִֽים׃

Thus said the LORD of Hosts: There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.

וּרְחֹב֤וֹת הָעִיר֙ יִמָּ֣לְא֔וּ יְלָדִ֖ים וִֽילָד֑וֹת מְשַׂחֲקִ֖ים בִּרְחֹֽבֹתֶֽיהָ׃ (ס)

And the squares of the city shall be crowded with boys and girls playing in the squares.

כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת כִּ֣י יִפָּלֵ֗א בְּעֵינֵי֙ שְׁאֵרִית֙ הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה בַּיָּמִ֖ים הָהֵ֑ם גַּם־בְּעֵינַי֙ יִפָּלֵ֔א נְאֻ֖ם יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃ (פ)

Thus said the LORD of Hosts: Though it will seem impossible to the remnant of this people in those days, shall it also be impossible to Me?—declares the LORD of Hosts.

כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת הִנְנִ֥י מוֹשִׁ֛יעַ אֶת־עַמִּ֖י מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִזְרָ֑ח וּמֵאֶ֖רֶץ מְב֥וֹא הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃

Thus said the LORD of Hosts: I will rescue My people from the lands of the east and from the lands of the west,

וְהֵבֵאתִ֣י אֹתָ֔ם וְשָׁכְנ֖וּ בְּת֣וֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְהָיוּ־לִ֣י לְעָ֗ם וַֽאֲנִי֙ אֶהְיֶ֤ה לָהֶם֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים בֶּאֱמֶ֖ת וּבִצְדָקָֽה׃ (ס)

and I will bring them home to dwell in Jerusalem. They shall be My people, and I will be their God—in truth and sincerity….

כֹּ֥ה אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת עֹ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר יָבֹ֣אוּ עַמִּ֔ים וְיֹשְׁבֵ֖י עָרִ֥ים רַבּֽוֹת׃

Thus said the LORD of Hosts: Peoples and the inhabitants of many cities shall yet come—

וְֽהָלְכ֡וּ יֹשְׁבֵי֩ אַחַ֨ת אֶל־אַחַ֜ת לֵאמֹ֗ר נֵלְכָ֤ה הָלוֹךְ֙ לְחַלּוֹת֙ אֶת־פְּנֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וּלְבַקֵּ֖שׁ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת אֵלְכָ֖ה גַּם־אָֽנִי׃

the inhabitants of one shall go to the other and say, “Let us go and entreat the favor of the LORD, let us seek the LORD of Hosts; I will go, too.”

וּבָ֨אוּ עַמִּ֤ים רַבִּים֙ וְגוֹיִ֣ם עֲצוּמִ֔ים לְבַקֵּ֛שׁ אֶת־יְהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת בִּירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וּלְחַלּ֖וֹת אֶת־פְּנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (ס)

The many peoples and the multitude of nations shall come to seek the LORD of Hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.

כֹּ֥ה אָמַר֮ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָאוֹת֒ בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔מָּה אֲשֶׁ֤ר יַחֲזִ֙יקוּ֙ עֲשָׂרָ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים מִכֹּ֖ל לְשֹׁנ֣וֹת הַגּוֹיִ֑ם וְֽהֶחֱזִ֡יקוּ בִּכְנַף֩ אִ֨ישׁ יְהוּדִ֜י לֵאמֹ֗ר נֵֽלְכָה֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם כִּ֥י שָׁמַ֖עְנוּ אֱלֹהִ֥ים עִמָּכֶֽם׃ (ס)

Thus said the LORD of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

May this Sukkot be a holiday of joy, peace and happiness to you and yours. Shabbat Shalom.



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