S uccos has come to the holy city of Yerushalayim. And so have I.

I sit on a tiny porch on the fifth floor, overlooking hills and homes and 1,001 succahs. Stately succahs, ramshackle succahs, constructed from wood or curtains or corrugated iron. Or all three. On rooftops surrounded by sun boilers, leaning out of porches, and elbowing for space in parking lots.

A Sephardic family launches into a spirited rendition of “V’samachta.” From other succahs, chatter and laughter and Ulu ushpizin and hamotzi catch on the breeze. It is my first time here for the chag. I am an outsider, looking on, observing in a kind of wonder, feeling like I’m in so many succahs at once.

Across the street, a lone chassid warbles a soulful “Ana Hashem.” I don’t know him or his struggles, but it’s there — all his pain and all his heart. It fills the tune, and the notes rise lightly into the air, and I imagine that something of his load flutters away too with the strains of song.

And suddenly I know. Long ago a teacher had said that Hashem loves Eretz Yisrael more than other countries. He watches it and guards it personally.… And the ten-year-old who’d learned that thought it wasn’t quite fair. Now, though, all those zemiros and brachos and beautiful families observing the chag…. How can He not love it more than the others?

But my heart twists. I don’t live here, I’ve got to go home. Will I ever recapture the connection I feel here, on this little porch?

A half year later, between destinations, we land up in Orlando for Shabbos, a city of fantasy and fireworks. An arid land, a spiritual desert, but a sprinkling of Jews — all levels of observance and non-observance — gather for a Shabbos seudah in a Chabad House.

I am sitting next to a woman who wears a cap and ponytail and knots a jacket over her jeans when she davens. A woman who flings her hand over her daughter in the middle of Lecha Dodi, because her love of Shabbos and tefillah and welcoming the Queen cannot be contained.

Across the table, a young man shares stories about his just-deceased father, a rabbi who wore a Mickey Mouse tie so that no one would be intimidated by him, by the Judaism he exuded in his smile, in his every act. He brought hundreds back to our heritage. With a Mickey Mouse tie.

Jews from over 20 countries sit and dine and talk Torah. The rabbi asks us all two questions: What’s your name and where are you from? Most people throw in a little vort, something about the parshah, how Providence led them here (one man: “My son hid my alarm clock so we’d miss our flight and have another day in Disneyland”) or an expression of thanks to the hosts, to Hashem.

A middle-aged fellow, here on business, shares a post-Pesach vort.

“Why do we say that if Hashem would have brought us to Har Sinai without giving us the Torah, dayeinu, it would have been enough? How’s that enough?”

Fair question. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 562)