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The Secrets of Sukkot
"So what's up with the huts?" I am often asked this by non-Jewish friends. It's not like Nashville is covered up with sukkot, the always-delightful, sometimes outrageously decorated outdoor booths. But when they do notice and ask, the more I explain, the more quizzical become the expressions on the faces of the inquirers. I can hardly blame them.
The very first time I went to a Torah study at what became my synagogue, it was a crisp October morning. I was directed through the social hall and to the outside of the building. There I found a latticework structure covered with cornhusks, construction-paper chains, and chili pepper lights. Okaaaaayyy.... Folks were sitting in the hut on folding chairs with bibles in their laps, presumably waiting for the rabbi. When she came in (I didn't even know women could be rabbis, that's how green I was), we studied the weekly Torah portion. I left there thinking, man, these folks really are different.
It's true that Sukkot is a holiday unlike any other. It's one of the shalosh regalim ~ along with Passover and Shavuot ~ three festivals where Jews of the Temple period were expected to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate and worship. Today, the booths remind us of our ancestors' hard work in the fields and the joy of the harvest. It is customary to take meals in the sukkah and to entertain guests in it.
The holiday of Sukkot also offers opportunities for reflection and study, in the symbolism that has arisen around The Four Species ("the four kinds") we use to celebrate with: etrog, myrtle, palm and willow. There is a very excellent article about that here.
I'm hoping my next trip to Israel is during Sukkot. How great it would be to see the little huts everywhere, even on tiny balconies of apartment buildings. The picture you see here was taken in Brooklyn, but you get the idea. For more pictures of sukkot, and some yummy recipies, too, visit the Miriyummy blog.
Wishing you a very happy Sukkot, zman simchateinu, "the time of our joy."