Holiday Reflections: Sukkot

| October 1, 2009

The Holiday:
Sukkot is an agricultural and historical holiday that celebrates the autumn harvest and commemorates the Israelites’ 40 years spent wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land.

The last of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals (which also include Passover and Shavuot), Sukkot is a seven-day celebration that provides a marked contrast to the holiday that immediately precedes it – Yom Kippur.  Whereas the latter is somber and solemn, Sukkot is suffused with a feeling of overwhelming happiness; so much so, that it is also known in Hebrew as Z’man Simchateinu (“the Time of Our Joy”).  In preparation for Sukkot, which means “booths,” we build huts reminiscent of the temporary dwellings our ancestors lived in during their desert wanderings.  For the duration of the holiday, we eat our meals, entertain guests and even sleep in the sukkah as a sign of gratitude to God for our many blessings of abundance.

On each of Sukkot’s seven days, we also hold and shake the lulav and etrog, known as the Four Species.  The etrog is a citron, a lemon-like fruit with a fresh and pungent smell; the lulav is a collection of three plants – lulav (date palm frond), hadass (bough of a myrtle tree) and aravah (willow branch) – bound together to represent the unity of the Jewish people.  The shaking of the lulav and etrog also expresses our desire for rain, as Sukkot occurs in the fall during the beginning of Israel’s rainy season.

Sukkot’s agricultural origins explain another of its many names:  Chag Ha Asif, or the Feast of Ingathering.  During Sukkot, as the fall harvest comes to a close and we gather the fruits of our labor, we express deep gratitude for nature’s generous bounty.

For Discussion – Our modern-day challenge:
Throughout Sukkot, we invite friends, family and other honored guests to celebrate with us by sharing a meal in our sukkah.  How can we extend that hospitality to, and share the holiday’s profound joy with, poor and struggling communities around the world?

As we shake the lulav and etrog, we rejoice in the sense of cohesion and community that binds all Jews together.  How does this feeling of unity strengthen our effectiveness as advocates?

Activities for Advocates:
Use your sukkah as an opportunity to promote awareness of the issues that move you.  Invite friends and community members to join you for a discussion about the ways in which Sukkot, with its themes of food and thanksgiving, encourages us to fight global hunger.  Turn your talk into a strategy session about ways you can make a difference.

Sukkot marks the fall harvest, a time when many delicious and nutritious fruits mature.  Organize an awareness campaign in your community about the long-term importance of providing hungry people with a healthy and balanced diet, and encourage community members to support local – and worldwide – food charities by contributing fresh and nutrient-rich food.

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