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Secret Jews

By Tzvi Fishman
9/23/2007, 12:00 AM
There are Jews with secrets and secret Jews. There are Jews who know the secret that the holiday of Succot, as well as all of the Jewish holidays, are integrally bound up with Eretz Yisrael, and there are secret Jews who hide their succah booths from view.
If you really want to celebrate Succot - Come to the Land of Israel!

For the ten days in Israel, in whatever direction you look, chances are you will see a succah booth. On front lawns, in driveways, in parking lots, on restaurant sidewalks, on the terraces of buildings, and on rooftops. In the Diaspora, the opposite is true. Unless you happen to be in one of the 5 or 6 Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods scattered around the globe, chances are you won’t see a succah at all. Take a walk from one end of Los Angeles to the other and there won’t be a succah in sight. In Paris and London, you would never know that there is a Jewish Festival about to begin. Diaspora succahs, if they exist, are hidden away on back lawns, or in back alleyways, so that the goyim won’t shoot flaming arrows at them and set them burning to heaven in a blaze of smoke. In the villas of wealthy Jews, you might discover a succah inside the house under a pull-back roof, so that the neighbors don’t have to know that Orthodox Jews live inside. That’s the sad state of affairs when you are a secret Jew living amongst the goyim.

Yes, we have many problems in Israel, but we don’t have to be secret Jews. We do not have to hide our succot in the back of our homes. We can proudly construct them in our driveways and front lawns without worrying about vandals or burglars or gentile police. In the Diaspora, a front lawn succah sticks out like the gaudy statues that Beverly Hills Arabs like to put on their lawns. In Israel, no one takes a second look. Succahs are natural in Israel. They are a part of the landscape. People can dine in them in peace, and sleep comfortably in them all night without the slightest disturbance. 

The renown Torah scholar, the Gaon of Vilna, emphasized that only two mitzvot are performed with all of one’s body – the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah and the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael. The lulav, etrog, myrtle, willow, and palm branch are all indigenous to Eretz Yisrael. The festive pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple and the joyous “Simchat Beit HaShoevah” can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael.

During my first year as a baal t’shuva returning to the Torah, when the holiday of Succot came alone, I erected four poles on the roof of the eight-story apartment building where I was living in Manhattan. Not having learned the laws of the festival, I stretched a blanket over the poles as a succah roof and slept outside in the wind and rain throughout the holiday.  Though my makeshift succah was invalid and not a succah at all, I am sure that G-d was pleased with the well-meaning weirdo on that lonely New York City roof. The next year I was invited to spend the first Yom Tov of Succah at the home of a shaliach from Israel who was working on an aliyah project in New York. When it started to rain at the beginning of the meal, he ordered his family to abandon the succah and move everything into the house. I refused, saying that I was staying in the succah since Rabbi Nachman taught that the mitzvah of succah is a segulah (special blessing) for coming to Eretz Yisrael. My host argued that the halachah stated that a person could leave his succah because of the discomfort and health hazard of rain, but I stubbornly stayed in the succah all night. Five minutes after the Yom Tov ended, the telephone rang. It was a co-worker of the shaliach from Israel. He said that they needed me to accompany a TV film crew that was flying to Israel in two days and that there was an El Al ticket for me waiting at JFK. “You see,” I told the startled shaliach. “Rabbi Nachman was right!”

How I met the Kabbalist Elder, Rabbi Leon, in my succah in Jerusalem is another amazing succah story that I have already told. If you read it closely, you will find a lot of secrets there.
For other Kabbalistic secrets of the succah holiday that are sure to blow you away, you can find them online at If you are tired of being a secret Jew, you too can become a Jew filled with secrets.
Hag Samaoch!        

P.S. Now that my erudite friend and political, historical, Zionistic mentor, Yisrael Medad, is on board in the blog dugout of Arutz 7, I have no more qualms about quitting.