If you are Jewish (or have at least a few Jewish friends), you probably saw a lot of stuff about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Indeed, those two holidays are, in my estimation, the most widely observed among the Jewish people, with Yom Kippur, in particular, holding a good deal of weight.
Lesser known among non-Jews, and even among more secular Jews, is the holiday of Sukkot, which is a shame because it is pretty awesome.
Sukkot is an eight-day-long festival celebrating the harvest and remembering the time when the Jewish people were wandering from Egypt to Israel. This last part is honored today by the practice of building a sukkah — a temporary hut, usually crafted from simple materials with branches and other natural material used for a “roof.”
As a child, I loved decorating my family’s sukkah with tinsel, garlands and other various items my parents have gathered over the years. Now as a mom, I am enjoying passing on this tradition with my own children. I love that is a chance for us to come together as a family to build something we can all share.
During Sukkot, families such as mine will eat, relax and enjoy time with family in the Sukkah. For kids this is a really cool experience, and makes family meals a special time. Some people even sleep in the Sukkah, to get the full feel of what it might have been like for the Jews in the wilderness. My family has never done this, as unlike in the Middle Eastern desert, this time of year gets pretty chilly where we live!
Sukkot is a wonderful time to connect with family, and, because we spend a lot of it outside, it is a great time to connect with nature as well.
This connection to nature — as well as to our humanity — can be found in another Sukkot observance: the shaking of the lulav and etrog.
The lulav consists of several pieces of palm leaves, myrtle branches and willow branches bundled together to form what I can best describe as a staff. The etrog is a sweet-smelling citrus native to the Middle East. The three parts of the lulav along with the etrog are known as the “four species,” each of which are said to symbolize different aspects of humanity as well as our relationship with God.
This connection is emphasized through the practice of shaking these four species together in each direction to show how God is all around us, and that we are part of something bigger than we can comprehend.
Sukkot concludes with what many Jews would consider the most joyous and fun of the festivals: Simchat Torah.
SImchat Torah marks the time when the Jewish people begin our weekly cycle of reading the sections of the Hebrew Bible in order. With Simchat Torah, we begin the book of Genesis.
To celebrate this occasion, we gather with our communities to sing, dance, enjoy good food (even drink!) and have a good time. After a somber Yom Kippur, this a welcomed occasion.
If you celebrate Sukkot, I’d love to hear more about your customs in the comments. And, please feel free to ask me any questions.