Sukkot


 What you need to know about Sukkot

 

Many people are familiar with the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashana(New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), but just five days after Yom Kippur, the 7-day holiday of Sukkot or Succos, depending upon where you family hails from, is celebrated by Jews worldwide. It is a joyous holiday that highlights our dependence on God’s grace and the critical importance of unity.

What’s in a name?

While Shakespeare famously claimed that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Dave Movsky, of Brighton, recalls a Succos memory from his childhood that underscores the importance of knowing the correct name. Growing up in Ohio, Movsky was proud of his heritage. When the holiday of Succos came, he wanted to share his excitement with a non-Jewish friend. So he invited her to come watch his family as they prepared to celebrate Succos. Imagine his young friend’s disappointment when she came to his house expecting to see a circus and found instead his family building a sukkah or hut, in celebration of Succos.

What a sukkah looks like

The outdoor sukkah/hut comes in many sizes from a one-person sukkah to large communal sukkot. It can be made from any material, such as canvas or wooden panels, but it has a special roof called sechach. The roof/sechach, which must not obstruct the view of the sky, must be made from raw, unfinished vegetation. Popular roof coverings are woven bamboo mats, palm leaves or narrow, raw wooden slats.


Holiday themes

Sukkot, the plural of the word sukkah, is a holiday that harks back to the days when the Hebrews, newly-freed from Egyptian slavery, wandered through the desert and lived in huts as they made their way to the land of Israel.

But the huts erected today, in commemoration of those desert days, are more than an historical marker. Much as God enveloped the emerging nation, with His protective embrace, shielding them from the perils of desert travel, so too, during the 7-day holiday, when Jews make these fragile dwellings their temporary home — a place where they eat their meals and where some sleep as well — they reaffirm their faith in and dependence upon God.

Sukkot memories

“My family, along with a group of families I grew up with, who still get together to celebrate Jewish events and holidays, built a sukkah in our backyard almost every year,” says Jessie Atkin, who lives near downtown.

“All of us kids would sit in the grass and make paper chains to hang as decorations for the sukkah. It was outdoors, there were leaves, and I remember it smelling like fall. I also remember my mom explaining the holiday to my elementary school classmates. She always called it the Jewish Thanksgiving which I think is a good way to explain it. Both are in the fall, both celebrate the harvest, and both, at least for me, were always joyous and filled with family.”

Because Sukkot occurs in the fall, at the end of the harvest season, the themes of faith and dependence on God are reinforced. After gathering in his harvest it would be natural for man to be self-satisfied — and take pleasure and comfort in the security of his man-made wealth. It is precisely at this time that the command to move into the flimsy-structured sukkah drives home the point that our existence and possessions are divinely bestowed.

Sukkot is also a time to emphasize unity. As part of the Sukkot observance, Four Species: a lulav or palm frond, etrog, or citron, hadassim or myrtle twigs and aravot, or willow twigs are used. Each specie represents different human qualities and personalities. By holding them all together during the prayer service, inclusiveness as integral to the unity of the Jewish people is underscored.

Harvey Festenstein, of Brighton, has fond memories of celebrating Sukkos in his native Chicago.

“As a kid, I remember running up the stairs to deliver newspapers to the apartment buildings. Each back porch had a sukkah on it. We’d put one up on our back porch too. I remember my sisters used to love to decorate the sukkah with fruits and we’d go out there and have our meals in it. It was fun,” Festenstein says.

In Rochester, when his kids were young and in Hebrew school, Festenstein also put up a sukkah in his backyard so that his children would have an appreciation of the holiday.

“I have my memories and provided some to the kids. What they do with them you can’t control, but you have to provide them,” he says.

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