Nachlaot, Jerusalem: We’re all living homeless and on the streets around here. And yet we strut about like millionaires, partying like rock stars…spiritual rock stars that is.
It’s Sukkot after all, zman simchataynu, time of our bliss. Sukkot is the grand EXIT from all the fixed sureties of our lives. We abandon sturdy shelters and opt instead for flimsy shacks. We are busy studying how to release our clutches on wealth to take firm hold on the riches of spirit instead. This is our work right now — in the shade of the sukkah — to learn faith.
Though, luckily, in Jerusalem at Sukkot time, we get moments when we don’t have to just rely on faith. Because here, in the sukkah shade, we actually get a taste. It’s as if something magical happens and we finally grok the fact that we are heirs and heiresses to a vast TRUST fund. A bank account that’s been accruing interest for some 3000 years. Daily deposits made for millennia by our diligent ancestors. And when it’s Sukkot in Jerusalem, it feels like we are finally cashing in on this long awaited inheritance. There is this paradoxical sense that even as we sit in these rickety shacks, we are moguls of fortune. We are royalty.
HAGILBOA STREET – THE FIFTH-AVENUE OF SPIRITUALITY
Join me for a Sukkot tour of the spiritual-opulence found on my silver sliver of a Nachlaot street.
HaGilboa is a wide-armed pedestrian boulevard in the heart of a metropolis. Zero cars, center of town. And it’s green. Crazy green. All sorts of leafy charm. It’s a few steps away from the raucous of the Mahane Yehuda outdoor Market, yet here it’s quiet, cozy & bird-chirpingly beautiful.
During Sukkot, it is stocked with sukkahs of all shapes and sizes, colors, tunes and odors, each its own unique jewelry-box. Ceaseless streams of awe-struck tourists amble about, wide-eyed at the vision of sukkah upon sukkah lining this boulevard of bliss.
But the grandest most glorious thing about this streets? It is in the heart of Jerusalem in the year 5775, when the ingathering of the exiles is on full-force display. It is a teeming testimony to the fact that the prophetic promises of the return of the Children of Israel to the streets of Israel are being fulfilled, one sukkah at a time. On HaGilboa Street we are sitting pretty with the winning numbers to the largest spiritual lottery known to man.
On HaGilboa you can hear the languages of the world waft through thin sukkah walls. A mix of accents of Greece, Morocco, France, England, America. We snack dreamily on the taste of the good old days, the ancient days…when the Pilgrimage Festival witnessed devotees of all stripes pouring into Jerusalem’s streets to “see and be seen” in this G!d-drenched capital.
Sitting in the sukkah amid all this opulence, we get a taste of the immense wealth that lays hidden just under the surface of this all-too-often challenging life as an ‘ingathered’ immigrant in Israel.
Let’s meet the neighbors:
The Brodts: Rabbi Sholom & Judy. The sagely tzadikim of English-speaking Nachlaot. They devotedly run Simchat Shlomo Yeshiva. Carrying the torch of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s teachings, his depth, his sweetness. Their Sukkah is breezy and packed with flower-crowned tables that seat the masses of seekers and singers who nightly gather here for some serious spiritual bliss led by Reb Sholom.
I interviewed R’Sholom & Judy about how they made their spiritual millions. Judy – a petit female Dalai Lama – looked at me and said, “In my mother’s house they would say, ‘Were not poor we just don’t have money’. Why put a ceiling on just a million when you can plug into infinity?” – She gave me her usual loving gaze, squeezed my hand tight and said, ‘Just connecting to another person is beyond infinite…so I’m the wealthiest right now.’
Reb Sholom with his hand-rolled cigarette & twinkling eyes added a stunning string of Hassidic stories from his endless repertoire. And ka-ching, it was as if a deposit was made in my spiritual bank account right then and there. I love having spiritually wealthy neighbors!
Then there’s the Steinbergs. Reb Dovid & Maayan. Two more Carlebach die-hard torch-bearers. And no shleppers either. He’s a hornist who played with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, she’s an award-winning international painter. Dovid trumpeted with Reb Shlomo for some 20 years and has a repository of Shlomo stories and teachings to prove it. Their sukkah is bright white shine of stories and song and the best cuisine this side of the Mediterranean.
They keep a plate of welcoming cookies and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on their sukkah table at all times – with an open tent policy of whiskey and cookies for the visiting crowds from off the streets.
Next, the Hendries: Shifra & Dovid – our Chabadnik friends, newly made aliya from New Jersey. Their sukkah sparkles with several dozen blue and clear crystals that swing whimsically from the ceiling beams. Gotta love crystal-carrying Chabadniks!
These two are famous for their blend of New Age sensibilities with old-world Jewish wisdom. They run a website that boasts tens of thousands of visitors & hard-core fans from across the globe. Shifra shares “authentic Kabbalah” wisdom with the masses that will blow your mind. All done electronically from their Nachlaot palace.
Dinner at their house features a small female army of 20-somethings from Crown-Heights who pack in to the Hendries house for the holidays. Six girls to a room! They cook and clean and smoke endless hukahs in the sukkah, cracking jokes and belting out boisterous Chabad tunes to the ire of their Sephardi neighbors trying to sleep in the sukkah next-door. Dovid & Shifra preside over the circus royally. Their whole house is an alive, over-brimming, slightly tipsy, blissed-out taste of olam-habah, the world to come.
Finally there’s the sukkah of the Greek synagogue. They don’t speak English but they so speak my language. These guys are up daily – um, religiously – at the crack of dawn for their vatikin prayers. There is reportedly a book out there that lists the possible candidates for the Lamed-Vavnikim, the 36 Hidden Righteous People upon whom the world depends. Of course it is the height of irony that there should be a book publicizing the hidden tzadikim. But whatever the case, the Rabbi of this shul is listed as one of the candidates. He walks down the street, trailed by his devoted followers, many of them in their late 80’s. We all hush as he shines and sheds blessings as he walks by.
Their sukkah has tall wooden walls and photos of holy men & Kabbalists covering the walls. They sing and sing and sing. And are already taking their post-lunch nap by the time the rest of us head out to shul.
Finally, here is a shot of our sukkah. Pimped out meticulously. We are big on glamping – glamour camping. Outside in the elements, yet replete with fine dining, soft bedding, ample bling and partying.
After all, on HaGilboa Street we don’t sleep in 5-star hotels, we sleep in 5 billion star hotels made of palm fronds and tapestries. It’s Sukkus – Come join us and cash in on the inheritance of a lifetime found strewn all over Jerusalem’s streets.
Thank you to Meir Shafton for the photos!