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Nationwide Pandemic Lockdown in Israel Dampens Holiday, Hurts Business (VIDEO REPORT)
Normally packed at this time of year. Jaffa Road this week. (Raymond Crystal/The Media Line)

Nationwide Pandemic Lockdown in Israel Dampens Holiday, Hurts Business (VIDEO REPORT)

Jerusalem a ghost town, with most stores shuttered, no tourists and movement by locals restricted

Jews the world over are marking Sukkot, the week-long festival marking the end of the harvest season and commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, and referred to by Christians as the Feast of Tabernacles.

In Israel, stores are normally overflowing with shoppers during the holiday, the locals boosted by many thousands of tourists. But this year, paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic, the once-vibrant streets of Jerusalem are eerily quiet and unfamiliar.

Supermarket owner Eran told The Media Line that it is nothing like in the past.

“This holiday, Sukkot, I’ve never seen anything like this…. Every year we have a lot of people here, smiles, music… and now… it’s like [during a] war.”

I’ve never seen anything like this…. Every year we have a lot of people here, smiles, music… and now… it’s like during a war

Normally abuzz with Sukkot traffic, the Danny Boy’s Gifts souvenir shop on the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall is a Jerusalem landmark. But owner Danny Ben-David told The Media Line that COVID-19 has devastated his business.

“Usually, it’s packed this time of year…. Very, very busy – I cannot [take the time] to speak with anybody,” he said. “But since March, March 15, and the last group from America, everything is crazy, unbelievable. No business.”

Jerusalem has turned into a virtual ghost town because of the continued government-mandated restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic.

Jaffa Road, a major thoroughfare in the heart of the city, is normally filled at this time of year, and streets and squares are packed with shoppers and tourists. But a quick look around reveals that all is empty, the stores shuttered and few passengers riding the light-rail trams.

On September 18, Israel became the first country to go into a second full lockdown after staggering numbers of new infections continued unabated. But many stores have been shuttered since March in a city where tourism is a major source of income.

“[Normally] during Sukkot, I don’t eat from morning till night… from when I open the store until 10 pm… No eating, no drinking. Packed with groups, Jews and Christians. This year, zero!” Ben-David lamented.

Sukkot in Jerusalem is noted for the masses of branch-topped “booths” built for the holiday. They are creatively designed and cleverly placed. They are where Jews eat their meals during the week-long celebration.

But this year downtown, you are hard-pressed to find them.

It is a holiday known for social gatherings and family visits. All that is now forbidden.

Nelly, a city resident, told The Media Line that the coronavirus had put a damper on people’s desire to celebrate.

“It’s a lot more modest than usual,” she said plaintively.

Knowing that the fight against COVID-19 will take a long time, Ben-David says Jerusalem business owners are longing for Divine intervention.

“I hope the coronavirus, with God’s help, will pass and the flights will [resume],” he said. “We need tourists in Israel. Without tourists, there is nothing.”

We need tourists in Israel. Without tourists, there is nothing

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