How we adore September, when the summer’s heat has mellowed, yet the garden is still fairly lush and green, and there is a hint of autumn’s fortunes to come. It is time soon to prepare for Sukkot.
JEWISH HARVEST FESTIVAL
I love the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot so much I had my husband make a permanent one (even though traditionally sukkot are supposed to be temporary hut) in our back yard in Woodbury many years ago. Under the shelter made of wood each autumn we adorned the ivy grown structure with corn stalks, bunches of spent flowers and herbs and twinkle lights. And in the metaphoric spirit of temporary dwellings and the transient nature of our journeys… we have celebrated many occasions there. It is one of my favorite ways to bring friends together.
This weekend is an important weekend for our Jewish friends. The Jewish New Year celebration Rosh Hashanah, ‘head of the year’ begins. It is also known as Day of Judgment, or Day of Remembrance. During the next ten days Jews pray, fast, express sorrow for any wrong doing, and seek God’s forgiveness.
Day of Atonement, Hebrew for Yom Kippur follows nine days later. This is a most important and holiest day of the Jewish year. It begins at sunset. At sunset the next day, a blast on the shofar, or ram’s horn, signals the Day of Atonement is over. Some Christians reckon that John the Baptist was the horn that signaled Jesus’ atonement.
FEAST OF THE TABLERNACLE, FESTIVAL OF BOOTHS
This weekend we will build a Sukkot in Puerto Rico for our school. We look forward to sharing simple meals with the children and their families in the sukkah or sukkot over the next couple of weeks. Sukkot marks the fall harvest, and commemorates Jewish ancestors dwelling in makeshift booths as they wandered 40 years in the desert. The tradition is to build a hut outdoors called a sukkah – to be thankful for the simple things in life and focus upon the wondrous complexities of YHWH or GOD.
The roofs of sukkots must be made from material grown in the earth – tree branches, bamboo sticks, and wood. It must be loosely placed over the walls to provide shade from the sun, allow rain to come in, and permit inhabitants to view the stars. Adornment with flowers, fruits, vegetables, pictures, is permitted. I recall residents at the Jewish retirement home Shalom, near the State Fair, preparing their Sukkot and sleeping outdoors to keep tradition.
Dwelling in a sukkot teaches that no matter how magnificent our home, no matter how extensive our wealth and material possessions, we should be humble and not be overly concerned about our status.
I think I enjoy Jewish traditions because on Yom Kippur one is reminded to reach the core of your spiritual self, a chance to engage in deep introspection. Later, at Sukkot, one tries to reach the core of the physical world. I heard one rabbi explain that Sukkot reminds us all of our vulnerability. It commands us to build a structure with the understanding "to have considered what a house truly is."
During times of rich harvest, we may overvalue our accomplishments, which are reflected in the sometimes lavish homes in which we live. So, listening to the Torah, Jews set up booths, flimsy huts -- that stand in contrast to the gilded fortresses we build up, today. From these huts Jews and non-Jews at Sukkot share their harvest with the poor, friends, family and neighbors.
Setting up a sukkot gives us a glimpse of a promised time, after our gardens have been put to sleep, when all our fellow humans will have enough of what they need; when each of us will be sheltered in the open, under our vines and enjoying candlelit conversation on our hay bales. This year I’ll make lots of Potato Soup and Challah Bread and share with new acquaintances, children and their families. The challah will be round, smooth loaves of bread that stand for a smooth, happy year to come. And there are apples dipped in honey. These stand for a ‘sweet’ year, with no sadness in it. Children will participate by collect bundles of blooms and branches and tie them on to the walls of the Sukkot.
With the goal of keeping it rustic, an old birch branch is usually poking somebody in the back at our place… yet, there is always peace and tranquility, fun and hope for a peaceful year, a peaceful world. Exploring celebrations becomes magical with children, family, neighbors, and friends. They are educational, and a wonderful way to avoid sinking into the gray of routine, stress and distraction.
Abundance at a Sukkot takes form in more than just food and rustic decorations. In the end, it’s what you bring to the table that makes it so fun and meaningful. What better way to experience the charms of an old tradition that leaves you feeling satisfied in both mind and body?