When I booked my flight to Israel back in May it was hard to picture myself on my scheduled return date of Sept. 28th. All I knew at the time was that I couldn’t leave on the 30th because it was a holiday according to the travel agent. What holiday? After being here almost 2 months I find it is Sukkot (sue-coat, if that helps). A holiday I often overlooked growing up in San Diego. There’s no way to miss it here. Every few steps there’s another view of a sukkah (sue-ca). On top of hotels, converted balconies, backyards, in front of restaurants you will find these temporary dwellings for at least 7 days. They are meant to resemble the type of fragile dwellings in which the ancient Israelites are believed to have stayed during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. A type of Thanksgiving in a way. Friends and family spend a lot of time in these structures eating great food and just spending time together. And while empty areas are turned into Christmas tree lots in the States, here you will find palm fronds stacked and cut to be used for creating these sukkot.
This holiday also marks the time of year when I can get one of my favorite fruits. Pomegranate. Rimon in Hebrew. This fruit has a long-standing relationship with the Jewish people. And this Jewish person absolutely loves them. My house mate Nikka showed me a great way to open them without destroying your clothes and those within 20 feet of you. 1. Carefully cut pomegranate in half. 2. Submerge one half at a time in a bowl of water. 3. Pull apart sections as usual but under water. 4. White bitter part of the fruit will float to the top. 5. Scoop the precious seeds out from the bottom. 6. Enjoy! They are great on yogurt.
Our field trip this week took us to The City of David. Situated just south of the Old City and outside its walls. This is the area that King David established his palace and city. Dates back to 4500 BCE. The oldest settled neighborhood of Jerusalem and a major archaeological site. One of the highlights of this place is the underground water systems. Hezekiah’s Tunnel. The waters of the ancient spring, Gihon, still flow. As someone who suffers from claustrophobia I had been mentally preparing for this part for a few days. Positive attitude. Flashlight. Crocs. Smile. Apparently not enough to brave the small spaces. I got as far as the first turn of the tunnels before my brain told my body to turn around and run. Very disappointing for me. But hey, I got two great pictures. I can use my imagination.
Yonit, our second program coordinator, brought us around downtown Jerusalem to point out all the great places to go out. There’s tons of tourist traps and bars that are filled with 18-21 year old Americans. For some that might be fun. Otherwise there are great “student bars” for those of us 22 and up. Remember, students are older here. A night out wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a shwarma/falafel stop. Last night we had a party in our building for upcoming birthdays in the group and chose a Jersey Shore theme. Hence, extra makeup and hair poofs abounding. Was a fun night, we’ve only been a group for a week and a half and it feels like we’ve got a great dynamic already. Here’s to hoping it lasts all 5 months.