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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sukkot



The High Holy Days, also called the Ten Days of Awe, are the holy days that start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur. These are solemn holy days, days spent in introspection, seeking the forgiveness of G-d and our fellows, and examination of our lives and strategies for doing better next year. The Jewish New Year, unlike January 1st, is NOT a moment for celebration, partying, frivolity or excess.

However -- the High Holy Days are followed by my favorite holiday, Sukkot. Sukkot literally means 'booths' since those are what we built on our roofs or on our balconies and in our gardens.

The individual sukkah is decorated every bit as festively as the Christmas tree back in the states -- complete with decorative strings of winking lights. The sukkot here in Israel aren't as drab and plain as those we have back on the West Coast -- here the walls come imprinted with rich designs; people run electric lines out to their sukkot, and in addition to the pretty lights that string the inside walls of the sukkah, folks often have a chandelier over the table to see by. Every makolet has strings of plastic fruits or peppers to hang from the sukkot (it IS a harvest festival) and children decorate their sukkot with pictures of the "Ushpizin" or 'guests' (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David) who are said to visit the sukkah every night in turn. Children also make ribbons of color-paper rings to hang from the beams and pictures of fruit, of harvests, of landscapes and of rainbows to hang on the walls.



Chabad has an additional tradition of Ushpizin. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn taught that there are "chassidic ushpizin" as well: the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid (Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch), and the first five rebbes of Chabad: Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the "Tzemach Tzeddek"), Rabbi Shmuel, and Rabbi Sholom DovBer. The Lubavitcher Rebbe would speak each night of Sukkot on the special characteristics of both the biblical and the chassidic ushpizin of the day and their connection to each other and their specific day of the festival.

But the key is hospitality and kindness, whether you have secular guests or Biblical guests or Chaddische guests as well. Guests are a necessity on Sukkot as well as one of the holiday's chief joys.

That's why there is a table and chairs in everyone's sukkah. Most Sukkot celebrations here and in the States involve rotating dinners at friends' homes. This is a lot easier here, when tomorrow isn't a work day and daylight saving has already ended, than in the States where you're coming home at 10pm and dreading pulling yourself, your spouse and your children out of bed early in the morning. Here, too, you see people eating in the sukkah at dinner, as well as at breakfast (the commandment is 'to eat in the sukkah' and that means everything. (Here, let me add our thanks to our generous neighbors upstairs who hardly know us, but who have installed a giant super-sukkah on the apartment building's front plaza and allowed us to eat breakfast and recite Shacharit with our lulav every morning in their sukkah.)

And sukkot themselves are everywhere. They bloom on people's balconies, they cover rooftops, they crowd the sidewalks. Last night near Mahane Yehuda, we walked ON Agrippas Street instead of on the adjoining sidewalk because the sidewalks were covered with sukkot. Walk home from a Jerusalem dinner in someone's sukkah and look up -- the balconies of apartment buildings are covered with the walls of the sukkot and people are eating dinner with their guests in each one.

You can tell that Sukkot is approaching in Jerusalem by watching the hotels. During the High Holy Days, sukkot begin to sprout from the rooftops and sides of the major hotels, followed shortly by more sukkot sprouting across the sidewalks in front of the city's restaurants.

We have that rarity in Jerusalem, a backyard. It is a large mirpesset (patio) and a generous patch of grass beyond the mirpesset. It's perfect for a sukkah. So we went sukkah-shopping. We returned empty-handed. Israeli stores DO have sukkot for sale--and at Home Center, my husband and I looked in amazement at the price tag: $550 for a sukkah? "It would be cheaper to order it from New York and pay for shipping," my husband muttered loudly.

I wanted this sukkah. It was beautiful. The price included the skach, the beams, and all the decorations (including some strings of electric lights) and delivery. But still.....$550? But...we're moving next year and there is no guarantee that a sukkah purchased for our apartment this year will fit our home next year. Mike cinched it: "For that kind of money, I'll take you out to dinner every night and you can eat out in a sukkah--it will be cheaper than buying the sukkah!" he said.

Done! A true festive week -- no cooking, no dishwashing, no shopping! THAT'S my idea of a holiday!

*Sukkot pictures are credited to RomKri of Jerusalem Photos. The first is a family sukkah in the Old City and the second is the Jerusalem Municipality's sukkah at Kikar Safra, the city government center.

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