Sukkot

Five days after Yom Kippur, we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot. The origins of Sukkot are found in an ancient autumnal harvest festival, and much of the imagery and ritual of the holiday revolves around rejoicing and thanking God for the completed harvest.  A sukkah, the main symbol of the holiday,  represents the huts that farmers lived in during the harvest time.  The sukkah also recalls the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert, during which time they lived in temporary shelters that traveled with them.

A sukkah is traditionally decorated with symbols of the harvest and other items designed to beautify the space. Weather permitting, meals are eaten in the sukkah, and some people sleep there. Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs, as well as other special guests (ushpizin), are symbolically welcomed into the sukkah and invited to participate in the celebrations.


Building a Sukkah

Several years ago, a Beth El congregant designed a wood frame sukkah that was sold through the synagogue. Those sukkah kits are no longer available, but the do-it-yourself instructions for buying and preparing the materials, then assembling the sukkah, are available here.

Instructions for Building a Wood Frame Sukkah

Sukkah Kits Available Online: Commercially produced sukkah kits can also be ordered online. The metal frame and nylon mesh sukkah constructed annually behind Beth El was obtained from The Sukkah Project,  www.sukkot.com.  Other vendors include:  www.sukkahworld.com, www.sukkahoutlet.com, and www.sukkahdepot.com.  Order early to avoid disappointment.


Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah

By Hazzan Emeritus Abe Lubin

Sukkot, more than any other festival in the Jewish calendar, enjoys a series of diverse rituals and moods, and the music reflects this variety of festive and liturgical expression. The rich plethora of moods includes thanksgiving, aesthetic beautification, rejoicing, dancing, singing, hope, and judgment. The heart, the mind, and the body are all engaged in this pilgrim festival of Sukkot.

Hoshana Rabbah, the concluding day of Sukkot, contains musical touches of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. The familiar majestic melody for the great Kaddish chanted before the Musaf on the High Holy Days, for example, is appropriated for the Kaddish prayer on Hoshana Rabbah. The melody reflects the fact that, according to Jewish mystical tradition, even as late as the end of Sukkot, there is still time for repentance.

Also on Hoshana Rabbah an additional set of willows is beaten against the floor and walked for seven circuits around the perimeter of the synagogue to symbolize our determination to separate sin from our lives.

The last day of the festival is called Shemini Atzeret, the “Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly.” The day marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel and contains an element of God’s judgment regarding water, famine, and plenty. During Shemini Atzeret, we recite Tefillat Geshem, the prayer for rain, with a unique musical motif. This most important prayer pleads for an ample supply of rain.

The concluding climactic day of the festival is Simchat Torah, the completion of the annual reading of the Torah and the immediate beginning, once again, of the reading of the first chapter of Genesis.

We are all familiar with the bursts of joyous music and dancing associated with this celebration and the accompanying sense of abandon and exhilaration. This is a great opportunity to sing selections from the vast repertoire of Israeli, Yiddish, and liturgical songs. Dancing and singing with the Torah scrolls reminds us of the joy in Judaism and of the faith in a future of peace and redemption.