Friday, October 10, 2008


Sukkot begins this evening, Oct. 13, and lasts for a week. It commemorates the Hebrews' forty years of wandering in the desert, where they built themselves temporary shelters called "sukkot"--booths, or huts. Sukkot has another function. A pilgrimage festival, it was called the Feast of the Ingathering in ancient Israel, when the Jews celebrated the harvest by bringing produce offerings to the temple in Jerusalem.
Observant Jews build three-sided booths, the sukkot, outdoors, where they eat and socialize during the festive seven-day holiday. The sukkah's cover must be made of living things such as branches, or bamboo, and one must be able to see the sky through them. Children enjoy decorating the sukkah with fruits and flowers and pictures.
According to Jewish Virtual Library, a useful source on the web, it is sad that some American Jews complain that they don't get to decorate a Christmas tree and yet know nothing of the fun of decorating a sukkah.
I visited only one sukkah, at an acquaintance's house, many years ago. The setting was very pretty, and the family was hospitable and joyous, but I had no idea what it was all about, and, stupidly, I was hesitant to ask.
The description of the holiday in Leviticus commands that Jews use the Four Species in the temple ritual of Sukkot. One should have a fruit called an etrog (it resembles a large lemon) in one hand and a bouquet of willow, palm, and myrtle (tied in a certain way) in the other. At certain times during the service the worshipper shakes the Four Species.

I've read that the Puritans' celebration of Thanksgiving may be related to the festival of Sukkot. I remember my own church observed a Methodist version of Sukkot: we called it the Harvest Festival. We gathered in the church basement, which we decorated with cornstalks and autumn leaves, and everyone brought canned goods to distribute to the poor.

There's a terrific 2005 Israeli movie about Sukkot. It's called Ushpizin, which means "the guests." (During Sukkot it is especially important to be hospitable by welcoming guests to your sukkah.) The guests turn out to be escaped convicts, and the movie is both touching and funny. You can buy it on Amazon and tell me what you think! Wishing you a fine holiday, Marilyn

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