Sukkot - Reflections on one of my favorite festivals


Sukkot Has always been one of my favorite festivals. It celebrates the harvest especially the seven fruits and grains grown in Israel. It was the inspiration for my first design: the Seven Species. A design that still gives me joy to offer to this day  - (thirty years later). 

After the earnest reflection of Yom Kippur, Sukkot is a time of great celebration with the underlying poignant message of the fragility of life and abode.

1. Building the Sukkah

Although you can build a sukkah any time before the start of Sukkot, there is a to make a start the night Yom Kippur ends. (We were rather lazy, but our neighbours immediately got to work and hammered away into midnight!) In Australia where I grew up and we had a large garden, but for some reason, we never had a sukkah. Instead, we had a large one at the Jewish school I went to and another one at the synagogue. After we arrived on Aliyah, we decided we would make a sukkah each year. My three sons loved constructing, decorating it - as well as sleeping in it.

2. Ushpizin: Welcoming 7 Invisible Guests

Ushpizin is Aramaic for “guests,” a reference to the seven supernal guests, “founding fathers” of the Jewish people, who traditionally come to visit us in the sukkah. There is one for each of the seven days of the festival: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. In recent years, many people also choose to include female Biblical characters.

On an everyday level, it was always a joy to invite friends in the years gone by. We would have to squeeze together as, naturally, there was never enough physical room.

3. Foods for Sukkot

Because Sukkot is a festival that celebrates the fall harvest, Sukkot menus typically include dishes with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. In Israel that includes juicy pomegranates and the tail end of summer fruits. We would often prepare a vegetarian meal to celebrate the fruits and vegetables. A common dish served for this Jewish holiday is stuffed vegetables. Some say the stuffed foods, like small cornucopias, represent a bountiful harvest.

Another traditional food is cabbage, as towards the end of Sukkot we say a prayer: “Kohl Mevasser”. In Hebrew, kohl means voice, and it’s also the Yiddish word for cabbage.

4. Simchat Beit Hashoeva: Dancing in the Streets

In the times of the Temple, it is said, there was a custom of pouring water onto the altar every day of Sukkot. It was known as Simchat Beit Hashoeva. Great fanfare accompanied the ceremony, including torch-lit dancing and juggling that lasted all night, and culminated in a parade to the river where the water was drawn.

On Simchat Torah, the last day of the festival, our synagogue had a custom where the entire congregation walked to the Kotel, carrying Torah scrolls. As we passed through the streets, people would throw sweets and join in with the celebration. During our first few years in Israel, I was so moved and marveled at this tradition.

1st Oct 2020 Barbara Shaw

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