The autumn harvest festival of Sukkot is named after the temporary shelter or hut (sukkah) in which Jewish people gather during this seven day celebration. It is a joyous festival that focuses our attention on the outdoors. Agricultural in origin, Sukkot is a thanksgiving for the bounty of nature. So often these days we hear phrases like “sustainable” and “living green.” For some of us, composting and recycling are part of our everyday habits. There are others who have never seen a farm.
When one delves into the complexities of a certain Jewish holiday or ritual, there is much to be gained intellectually and spiritually. The building of a sukkah is a symbolic physical act that reflects not only on Jewish history, but on present day concerns about our vulnerable earth. With indoor plumbing, clean running water, heat, air conditioning and grocery stores, which provide all the necessary items for sustenance, we are highly susceptible to quick complaint (kvetching in Yiddish) when ease is disrupted. Going outside to dwell in a sukkah for a few days reminds us that we are physical beings dependent on the laws of nature.
Two years ago, my family built a new sukkah. We researched and inquired, designed, planned and built our structure. Our modern, eclectic sukkah requires more help than our old one to construct, but after it is decorated, it is a thing of beauty that we look forward to dwelling in. When my fake vegetables and fruits, birds and artificial foliage get drenched from rain, pummeled with hail, or flattened with snow, I may get annoyed, but I am not missing the point.
Similarly, Mizel Museum is renovating its sukkah this year and is planning a first annual Sukkahpalooza! on Sunday, October 16. Join us for food, storytelling, art, and the creation of a Vegetable Band during a free day at the museum. Details at www.mizelmuseum.org/2011/09/sukkahpalooza/.
There is something wonderful about sitting in a sukkah that we want to share with our community, neighbors and friends. It feels good. You may have to sit on hard chairs, maybe on unlevel ground, and you may have to slap off an insect. Wind can blow debris on the food and sun rays find their way into your eyes. But it is outdoors with its earthy smell amid the golden colors of the season, the bounty of harvest on the table, a gathering of loved ones, friends and guests (ushpizin in Aramaic). This tradition reminds us of our temporary existence and the responsibility of insuring a future for younger generations.
Take a look at Sukkah City at http://www.sukkahcity.com. They are continuing “perhaps the world’s oldest architectural conversation” and encouraging exploration on “how little separates the world’s housed and housed-nots.” We can further this dialogue so the sukkah becomes a metaphor for greater care and attention to Tikkun Olam(healing the world).
By Penny Nisson
Jewish Education Coordinator