Category Archives: Sukkot

Every teardrop is a waterfall

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Our recent Sukkot holiday found us in one of the most beautiful areas of Israel. In the foothills of the Golan a series of rivers snake through the cliffs and canyons providing welcome relief to the searing heat in the summer and dramatic deluges in the winter and spring. The Hermon is Israel’s highest mountain, bordering Syria and at the edge of Lebanon. It’s hard to believe that this beauty and majesty is the backdrop to wars and terror. The fields in this area are fenced and signs warn of unexploded mines from past conflicts. Disused buildings are peppered with bullet holes and the army presence is hard to ignore. But on a beautiful day, when the sky is blue the colours are alive and fish and crabs that live in the clear waters swim peacefully it is good to take a breath, drink in the scenery and try to forget man’s cruelty and the sadness it brings and let nature do the talking.

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Here comes the rain again

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October in Israel brings Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and my favourite of all the holidays, Sukkot.  You may remember my ramblings about the Sukkah (Succah, Sukka?) that we build in the garden every year. Where we eat, where I spend my evenings quaffing vino and where the kids play.  This year, true to form we decorated with what I can only refer to as Christmas decorations, the kids drew pictures and I, true to form, drank more than my fair share of grape juice.

This time of year in my opinion is when Israel is at its most beautiful.  As the terrible heat and humidity of the summer months begins to lift, the skies become clearer and you can actually see the hills of the neighbouring West Bank as opposed to the heat haze which covers them for 60% of the year.  Beautiful.  The colours of the spring and summer are hard to beat, spring flowers followed by the garish borganvillia and the stunning purple of the jacaranda.IMG_2261 But for me, Autumn tops them all as the trees begin to show their wares.  Olives, oranges, lemons and carob laden the branches and the long awaited ability to get out and about without a) overheating b) seeking refuge under a shady tree or c) wishing we’d gone to the pool instead.

 

 

In the nearby Judean Hills is Park Britannia, a history or nature buffs dream.  As a wedding present some of my old friends bought us some trees in this park and ever since my first visit (to see(!) our trees) it has held a special place in my heart.  A favourite pastime of ours is to head up there on a Saturday, find a quiet spot with friends, explore with the childers and picnic with the ants.

With Sukkot comes the rain, light at first followed by a couple of blustery storms.  The mosquitoes go crazy as the puddles turn into frantic spawning grounds for the little blighters, the childers insist on donning wellies despite it being 30 degrees outside (little blighters) and finally my lawn (the scrappy grass in my garden)  becomes green again.

On a shallow note I should add that the joy of being able to wear more clothes and pull a pair of jeans on again also has its benefits, no more podgy white thighs or burnt shoulders on show.  But maybe that’s just me.  Welcome Autumn you have been missed.

Ging gang gooley

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When Israelis go away for the weekend they stay in zimmers (or they camp but that’s a pretty dusty/sandy experience).   Zimmer comes from the German word and has been adopted by Israel, pronounced tsimmer in Israeli-speak and is a little self contained cottage usually set in a small garden in a rural community. Zimmers in Israel range from the most basic – bed, bathroom, small kitchen to the most decadent 5 star luxury with separate bedroom and living room, fully equipped kitchen, jacuzzi, state of the art sound system.  One thing they all have in common is that they are a fantastic escape and are fiendishly expensive, think London hotel prices.  Yet, like many luxuries in Israel people pay the price because there is no alternative.

In our family we refer to zimmers as wooden houses (bite me etz) as these little cottages would not look out of place on the set of Heidi.  In fact once we went to a zimmer with the kids and they were highly disappointed to discover it was stone built.

In the days before the childers the zimmer experience was a romantic getaway, candlelight, jacuzzis and complementary wine.  In a country with a shortage of water like Israel’s, a bath, let alone a jacuzzi has always struck me as a decadence that the country (and it’s residents) can ill afford but it is a luxury that most Israeli’s wouldn’t dream of having at home so a little treat on your hols seems acceptable.  Nowadays our holiday jacuzzi holds as many small children as we can fit to have one giant bath experience.  Woe betide the person who turns the jacuzzi on though as tears and shrieks of terror are sure to follow.

I have mentioned in previous posts about our twice yearly trips en masse with a few families, many childers and a large cheese and wine selection to a group of zimmers.  We book a place to fit all the families and no more, and have an experience not unlike the scout camps from youth; cooking together, eating together, sitting around the camp-fire, toasting marshmallows, singing tunelessly to hubby’s guitar.  During the day we take short trips, sightseeing, mini-trekking and return to our ‘camp’ with tired kids to dip in the pool, drink turkish coffee (botz) and generally put the world to rights.  Once the childers are safely bedded down, exhausted from fresh air and new experiences, more wine comes out, the guitar is open to requests and the hidden stash of choc is miraculously found.

We are incredibly lucky to have a great group of like-minded friends who we go with.  If the time ever comes that we were to leave Israel it is these trips with this bunch that I will miss the most.

view towards the Golan

view towards the Golan

This Succhot’s trip was to one of Israel’s most stunning areas, The foothills of the Golan, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  The small village we stayed in had a spectacular view across the water towards Tiberias.  We were moments away from the Gamla valley where Griffon Vultures make their home.  Armed with binoculars this is a trip a birdwatcher would salivate over.  In fact on my parent’s very first trip to Israel 9 years ago we took them to Gamla and my Dad still talks about it.  Convinced as he was that Israel was all sand and camels, the green of the Galilee  and Golan in April with the added bonus of these gigantic scavengers (their wing span is 280cm) has firmly remained in his mind as one of the most beautiful experiences.

image courtesy of wikipedia.com

image courtesy of wikipedia.com

Now I won’t tell you once again how beautiful the country is, you can read about it here, what I will say is that when life seems a little like groundhog day, when the grind of work, child rearing, housekeeping, decision making gets you down, a few days away can certainly remind you that a change is indeed as good as a rest.  You should try it, at home or perhaps in Israel.

Temporary Home

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It’s Sukkot which in Israel means a number of things.  Firstly it usually heralds the change in the weather.  Hooray.  The humidity goes down, the wind picks up, we even usually experience a few drops of rain (literally a few drops).  Sukkot also means that people’s balconies and gardens and kosher eateries gain an odd looking, temporary structure; covered in palm fronds and decorated with what I would refer to as Christmas decorations.  Of course they are only Christmas decorations if you come from a country that celebrates Christmas.  Sukkot in our house also means lots of children, open front doors, neighbourly kid-swap and a general raise in noise levels.

Cue quick explanation (Jewish friends look away now). Sukkot is a Jewish festival that commemorates the Jews 40 years of travel in the desert after their exodus from slavery in Egypt.  The structure or Sukkah is a reminder of the temporary dwellings they erected to live in during this time.  The word sukkah means booth or tabernacle and the roof is made from schach (try to say that after a drink) which are palm fronds or evergreen leaves.  During Sukkot people eat in the sukkah and some even sleep in the sukkah but as you know from previous postings about our garden, you would have to pay me A LOT of money to catch me lying out there in the dark.  The holiday is a week-long starting and culminating with special meals with friends and family.

(For a more in-depth explanation of the customs and religious importance of Sukkot http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm)

In our building we have a lot of kids.  Our 3 plus another 11.  8 of them are under 6  and by the way there are 5 sets of twins – yep, go figure – so you can imagine the excitement when the sukkah goes up in the gardens and behind the building in a communal area.  Don’t think you can have an invite only dinner as you are to be assured at least 4 small people will appear at some stage, joined later by parents.  I love it.

Husband built our sukkah and another one in no. 1 son’s kindergarten with a choice selection of bits of wood and old sheets.  Precarious was not the word to describe them, until they were tied to every available solid structure.  We are 4 days in and so far so good, as long as high winds stay away.  I intend to be out when he takes it down.

A little ram-shackled but we like it

A little ram-shackled but we like it

The roof is a bit more tricky because come a week before sukkot the council starts pruning the palm trees (of which there are thousands) and people  who look like they haven’t seen the light of day since last Sukkot come out of their houses to claim their share of branches.  Traffic jams ensue as elderly women, dazed by the sunlight, bent double, wander blindly across the roads oblivious to traffic ‘must get palms, must get palms’, cars randomly stop in the middle of the street and open their car boots all whilst the men up the cranes chopping the palms yell for people to ‘GET OUT OF THE WAY’.  I should mention that one palm frond is bloody heavy.  Surprisingly so.  A few years ago I stopped (in a layby) at the side of the road and claimed a couple of branches to bring home.  Problem was they were too big to fit in the car and in the absence of a roof rack I clung to one at a time on the roof with one hand on the steering wheel.  Not terribly safe and I almost broke my wrist but at least I bagged two beauties for free.  Yes, there’s the rub, if you don’t have your own (plus a tree surgeon to cut them down for you) or you don’t manage to catch the annual council chopping then you have to buy them!!!  At around 5 shekels a frond (£1 or $1.50) that makes for an expensive roof.

Since having the childers, Sukkot is by far my favourite holiday; a social butterfly such as myself who spends way too much time alone, really appreciates the many visitors, invitations and the comings and goings of the neighbours.  I seem to spend way more time outdoors, protected from bugs by our sukkah (although a large cockroach did fly on to me the other night) and there is something so holiday-like eating outside and (almost) under canvas.  Only a few more days to go until it’s over for another year and life goes back to normal after the holiday-fest which is August and September in Israel.  Better get back to the garden and enjoy the rustle of the drying fronds overhead.

Christmas decs sorry Sukkot decs

Christmas decs sorry Sukkot decs