October 9, 2018

Sukkot in Jerusalem: No Longer a Rich Man’s Luxury

The sheer cost of spending Sukkot in Jerusalem limited the experience to the more affluent in years past. When one added up the costs of airfare and hotel, especially for a large family, it certainly was reserved for those who could afford it. But in the just concluded holiday, it seems that the experience went well beyond the well-heeled. For one, airfares, especially when booked well in advance were extremely competitive. Thousands of Jews flew on such carriers as Turkish Air, Lot and Aeroflot, despite stopovers in their respective capitals. Large numbers of apartments were rented out by Israelis and foreigners who either travelled themselves or simply coveted the extra income that for some took care of a good chunk of their rent. I heard some wild estimates about the number of foreigners who travelled to Israel with one figure putting the number at well over 100,000. The foreign presence on the streets of Jerusalem was palatable and in neighborhoods like Rehavia, Arzei Habirah, and Sharei Chesed, you could hear more English than Hebrew. In Sharei Chesed’s Khal Chasidim even the expanded shul and additional minyanim could not accommodate the throngs.

It almost appeared if the ingathering of Jews prophesized in the Torah was on display as Jews from South America, all corners of Europe and Australia were everywhere. French Jews were noticeably present.  But none was more dominant than Americans from throughout the USA, including large numbers from New York and Los Angeles.  Some other trends that deserved mention are the growing number of foreigners who are buying apartments in the Holy City. Most hotels were filled to capacity but even some wealthy Jews complained about the hefty prices for rooms and meals, particularly in luxury hotels like the Waldorf Astoria, which for all its glamour still had some vacant rooms a week before Sukkot. The unusually hot weather in Jerusalem caused some discomfort but for the most part it was a very successful holiday season for the local economy and the foreigners. Perhaps one memorable line for me was an exchange between New Yorkers on Simchat Torah which ended with “see you in Miami soon.”