In Jewish lore, Hadrian, a Roman emperor 20 centuries ago, was bad news. He built a large temple to the goddess Venus in Jerusalem, and another one dedicated to the worship of Jupiter on the ruins of the destroyed Second Temple. He abolished circumcision and brutally quashed the Bar Kochba revolt, continuing to persecute Jews and Judaism.
So starts Yevgeni Yevtushenko’s epic 1961 poem about the then-unknown killing field near Kiev.
The world largely did not know that the Nazis, aided by compliant Ukrainian police, slaughtered 33,771 Jews in a ravine during two days at the end of September 1941, the largest number of Jews who lost their lives in a single Final Solution operation.
On Sukkot this week, if you were looking for a standard sukkah, the place to go was Union Square. Chabad Loft, which serves part of downtown Manhattan, put up a 500-square-foot wooden hut, above, with cedar branches atop, where volunteers from the Lubavitch chasidic movement provided meals and snacks and the chance to shake the Four Species.
No, those aren’t watermelons that the couple at the Western Wall plaza are shlepping.
They’re etrogs, and the man and woman are among thousands of Israelis who flock to the Western Wall — the Kotel in Hebrew — at Sukkot each year. One of the shalosh regalim, the trio of biblical pilgrimage holidays, the Jewish harvest festival still attracts visitors and worshippers.
As in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, the Four Species of Sukkot were often a rare, and valued, item in the Jewish communities of Northern Africa. Often several families would share a lulav and etrog. As recently as the middle of the last century, when the Jewish population of Morocco had started to decline, there was one lulav per synagogue.