Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sukkot Reverie

The beauty of Jerusalem took my breath away the other evening, on the roundabout near the old train station, when everything converged. We approached the ancient twisted olive tree on a traffic circle (transplanted from some stolen field, one assumes). It was surrounded by blooming meadow grass, and set against the pastel-toned murals of old-time passengers painted on the station wall. Suddenly an Arab boy galloped on a white horse down the pavement. He was smiling with the warm night wind in his hair and looked as if he’d leapt from the painting. Guys in kippas strolled near a trompe d’ oeil sculpture that looked like a freestanding tarp, draped over an invisible car.

Shadows of palm fronds flicker on the tent-sides all around town. Sukkot looks more intriguing at night. By day, these lean-tos give the city a shabby, shanty look. But inside a sukka, it’s fun and informal, like being in a child’s fort. People come over for tea, hang out, snack, commune together. And the breeze is perfect for flags, so yes, there are parades as pilgrims from across the country and across the world come to the Temple (which isn’t there anymore) and camp in temporary structures to remember God’s bounty while the tribes wandered in the wilderness. Strangely, there seems to be a preponderance of Brazilian evangelicals among the faithful this year, all marching in costume like the World Cup champions in green and bright yellow. The Christian Zionists call Sukkot "the Feast of the Tabernacles," and celebrate in solidarity with Old Testament believers. A trail of African women and South Sea Islanders poured off the stairway near the Pools of Solomon, praised the lord, and picked their way around me down to the Hinom Valley,[Gehenna or Hades.] A couple of Christian End-timers in t-shirts were tooting on ram’s horns. Shofar, so good. (No apocalypse yet). People are smiling.

Locals are have been picnicking everywhere, and the parks' lawns are strewn with litter and look festive, like a party venue the morning after. The weather is delicious, the wind fresh. The moon is lopsided and its light gleams off the pale stones of the Old City in the distance. I can’t quite see the Kotel, the Western Wall, but there’s a steady amount of foot traffic up the road there. The Muslim prayer call sounds, as do the deep throated churchbells from the Basilica of the Assumption.

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