Jerusalem Journal # 176
Pilgrims from all over the world have converged on Jerusalem for Sukkot, The Feast of Booths spoken of in the Bible. It is the “Season of Rejoicing.” For eight days people spend much of the day (and sometimes overnight) in their sukkah (sook-kaw), which, in Hebrew, describes “a hut, booth, pavilion, tabernacle, or tent.” Historically, the holiday commemorates the forty years God provided daily for the Israelites who wandered in the desert living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, it is a joyous celebration of the final harvest in this land before winter rains and a great opportunity for friends to break bread together from sukkah to sukkah.
Last night our Jerusalem rooftop table was set for ushpizin, Sukkot guests, when the racing clouds darkened and then disgorged the first rains of the season in a cloudburst which sent us scrambling to rescue all that rain could damage. After six very dry months we entered a new season which brings with it the reminder that for those of us who enjoy the delights of a temporary shelter for outdoor living, flexibility is key and we need to be prepared for what may fall from the sky, disrupting plans.
As skies cleared, tables were dried and reset, twinkling lights and flickering candles cast the canopy in a glow of amber, and blustery winds settled to a whisper over a meal shared by friends after the storm. We dined under the stars with a realization of how quickly things can change.
Sunday morning is now breaking over the Mount of Olives. Jerusalem, finally washed clean from summer’s drought and dust by the “early rains” that fell last night, is gleaming in the sun- dappled play of light and shadow reflecting off layers of ancient stone facades. The Dome of the Rock has gone from a dusty matte finish to a glittering golden gloss. Our fuchsia bougainvillea, straining to survive the incessant nibbles of tiny sparrows and the heat, stands refreshed. Rushing above me, like monstrous magic carpets from the west, are more ominous indigo clouds laden with rain off the Mediterranean, where battleships of the nations are poised for war in a global dance of power—their waves lapping the shores of the Middle East, rippling inland across desert terrain to kingdoms in conflict.
True to the cacophony which IS Jerusalem, church bells are clanging from the Church of the Redeemer high on the western ridge, a raucous rabble of young voices erupt from the Islamic School nearby, The Chief Rabbi engages his microphone as more than 80,000 Jews in black coats or prayer shawls mass to hear the Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall plaza, while Christian pilgrims sing their way down the Via Dolorosa below us in a language I don’t recognize.
There is an eternal beauty in this city written about by sages of old that captures my senses this morning amidst the squalls blowing across newswires. Internal conflicts, natural disasters, economic instability, and global terrorism swirl like currents in a tempest, stirring up fear and uncertainty worldwide. We in Israel don’t know what will fall from the sky and when, perhaps neither do you. My “guy wires” of faith are anchored in God’s promises.
The canvas canopy above the table where I write is billowing, slapping, and straining against the guy wires which hold it in place as winds gust and ebb, allowing my ear to catch faint pieces of the Aaronic Blessing spoken at the Wall. “The Lord bless you, and keep (cover, shelter, preserve, protect) you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).”
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