Friday, September 28, 2012

Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot

Building a sukka *
The Jewish people are finishing up the Days of Awe this week, and on Sunday at sundown they will begin to celebrate Sukkot. It's a true holy day and holiday, and it spans the full week from sundown on Sept. 30 to sundown on Oct. 7. Sukkot is a harvest festival, and in Hebrew it is called z'man simhateinu, which means the season of our joy. It is meant to be a festival of plenty, of joy, of getting together with family and friends to celebrate that which is. It's also a reminder of how God sheltered the Jews during their wanderings in the desert for 40 years. Prayers are said, and meals are shared.
"After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival... for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy." (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)
A modern sukka **
Jewish families build a sukka or booth in which to spend some or all of their time during Sukkot. The sukka has either 2.5, 3, or 4 walls, mimicking the Hebrew letters that form the word sukka. Some are built from wood, others are made with PVC pipe. The one pictured to the right is built with light weight metal pipes screwed together. The walls can be made of anything, provided they're present, and people have used everything from blankets to straw to wood paneling. The roof, however, needs to be made of natural materials such as corn stalks (traditional here in the United States) or branches.

The four species ***
During the time in the sukka, each Jewish family or congregation will take up the Four Kinds or Four Species, and shake them in the six directions (north, south, east, west, up and down). The Kinds are etrog (a citrus like a lemon), lulav (a palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs), and two aravot (willow twigs). These very different items are representative of the different personalities and people who make up the Jewish family as a whole, throughout the world.

City of sukkas in Jerusalem ****
Throughout the world, Jews celebrate Sukkot at the same time each year. They build their booths or sukkas, and spend time in them with family and friends. It's traditional to invite over neighbors and friends to visit together in the sukka, to share in a meal or a drink. Families sometimes camp out in the sukka, although in the northern areas of America it's a bit chilly for doing that!

Whether you are Jewish or not, the idea of Sukkot is a wonderful one. The celebration of harvest and plenty, spending time with family, renewing old friendships and thanking people for current ones are all cross-cultural, interfaith moments.

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* Image from
** Photo by RonAlmog / Wikimedia Commons
*** Photo by Gilabrand / Wikimedia Commons
**** Photo by  Effi B. / Wikimedia Commons

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