WHAT IS SUKKOT?
Sukkot is the Hebrew name for the “festival of booths.” This holiday is a reminder that the ancient Israelites lived in temporary homes for forty years as they wandered the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Many families remember this holiday by eating all their meals and even sleeping in a temporary hut, called a sukkah, for seven days. This holiday is also known as the autumn harvest festival, celebrated at the time when the Jewish people gathered the crops from the fields and the fruits of the orchards. These harvests were always celebrated with great excitement. As a result, Sukkot is also called‘Chag HaAsif’ (‘The Festival of Gathering’) and ‘Zman Simchatenu’ (‘The Time of Our Happiness’).
WHEN IS SUKKOT?
Sukkot begins two weeks after Rosh Hashanah, on the eve of the 15th day of the month of Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar. (That usually falls in October.) The holiday lasts for seven days, or eight for Orthodox and Conservative Jews. The first two days of Sukkot and the last two days of Sukkot are days on which Jews refrain from work. The seventh day is called Shemini Atzeret, which is a day of “communal assembly,” and that is followed by a celebratory day called Simchat Torah.
HOW DO WE CELEBRATE SUKKOT?
Sukkot and Simchat Torah are joyous holidays and feature lots of outdoor parties, singing and dancing. Today, many Jews set up a sukkah (temporary hut) in their backyards and decorate it with colourful drapery, dried fruits and gourds, and artwork. Sukkot is a holiday frequently associated with hospitality. It is a mitzvah (good deed) to invite guests to dine together in the sukkah. According to Jewish mystical tradition, the spirits of various Biblical ancestors (ushpizin, or guests) visit each day, including Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel. Today, some Jews also “invite” more modern Jewish ancestors, and draw inspiration from the stories of their lives.
WHAT ARE THE SYMBOLS OF SUKKOT?
In addition to the sukkah itself, Sukkot is celebrated by gathering together four species of plants, called arba minim. This ritual is based on a passage in the Torah: “On the first day you shall take the product of the beautiful (hadar) tree, branches of palm trees, thick branches of leafy trees, and willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before the Lord your Gd for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40). Many Jews recite a blessing over the lulav (bouquet of leaves) and the etrog (a yellow citron, like a lemon), shaking them in six directions, to thank Gd for the blessings of the earth.
We wish you a “moadim l’simcha” – a joyous holiday – and we invite you to visit us and share with us in the festivities of Sukkot!
-from the staff of the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre