My poet friend Leah and her husband Ben were raised Jewish, not in the observance of rituals of the faith, but in a cultural way. On rare occasions they attended synagogue services. So even Leah was surprised one late summer day when Ben was seized by an inspiration to reenact one of the orthodox observances of their “religion.” She discovered that a strong emotional attachment to some aspects of the Jewish faith lived in Ben’s memory. Though she didn’t quite know where the memories and attachments came from, we think he must have witnessed the important celebrations of Judaism when he was young and impressionable. He afterwards lost all his family in the Holocaust. The emotional resonances of the Festival of Sukkot still had a strong hold on him. He was seized by a desire to recreate for his friends in California what had somehow been preserved in his European childhood memories.
Those of us raised in Christianity may not realize that we are actually familiar with Sukkot, pronounced "Sue Coat." It is somewhat misrepresented in our Biblical account in John 7. There we see Jesus and his apostles going up to Jerusalem, Jesus going in secret, to the Feast of Tabernacles. The Bible’s translation is misleading for modern readers who no longer know the meaning of the word, because the word "tabernacle" refers to the portable Sanctuary in the desert, a precursor to the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Hebrew word "sukkah" (plural: "sukkot") refers to these temporary booths that people lived in for the seven day duration of the celebration, not to the Tabernacle. During Sukkot, Jews are asked to construct a three-sided tent (booth), the roof of which must be made of corn stalks or sticks or other items taken from the earth in memory of the shelters used during the period of wandering in the desert. Sukkot is also commonly referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as the Season of our Rejoicing, celebrating the completion of the harvest. Customarily the Sukkot tent is decorated with hanging objects, and the specifications of the Sukkot suggest that the roof of the tent admit both rain and light. In connection with Sukkot, a lulav is often prepared. A lulav is a woven object with four components, including fruit of the citron tree, each of which components is a plant mentioned in the Torah. Waving of the lulav during the recitation of blessings constitutes a mitzvoh, or good deed, on God's behalf. http://www.jcceastbay.org/holidays/
Building the Sukkah Booth
Ben built his sukkah in the open air atrium of their “California Modern” home, one of the famous Eichlers built on the West Coast.
“And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkot], the fruit of the beautiful [citron] tree, tightly bound branches of date palms, the branch of the braided [myrtle] tree, and willows of the brook. Be joyous in the presence of the Lord your God for seven days.” Leviticus 23:40.
My friend’s husband stayed as loyal to these specifications as he could, though he had to use California Bay Laurel instead of braided myrtle.
Using the four species, 3 types of branches and one of fruit, which are usually waved, Ben modified the ritual to make his shelter of palm fronds, myrtle leaves, willow branches and hung the fruit of a citron (a citrus like the lemon) tree from the roof.
The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur, usually in September or October. “...On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the Lord”. -Leviticus 23:34. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in the Jewish year to one of the most joyous.
Sukkot is the last of the three pilgrimage festivals. Jewish families from all parts of the Roman Empire made the pilgrimage into the holy city of Jerusalem, swelling the population from 25,000 to about 150,000 in Jesus’ time. Like Passover and Shavu'ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival, sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif, the Festival of Ingathering.
The translation given in the Christian Bible for Sukkot is the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus used the opportunity of the Festival to proclaim the gospel in his sermon to the crowd of Jewish pilgrims.
At our Sukkot celebration in the suburbs of Concord, California, we danced to violin music, read poetry to each other, and ate wonderfully exotic Middle Eastern foods. I was grateful to Ben for the chance to share the beautiful rituals and revered symbols of their faith, and happy that he’d done this for Jew, non-Jew, Catholic, Protestant, and agnostic alike. The joy of Sukkot touched everyone. Celebrating it brought Judaism to life for me in a way I had never experienced before. I felt the enduring power of these ancient symbols to communicate faith, love, and joy.
Local service will be held tomorrow at: http://www.temple-isaiah.org/communications/news-events/september-19-suk...