Sukkot: A Jewish Thanksgiving
JNS.org – Sukkot is akin to a Jewish Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving in America, no matter their religion or background, families and friends come together to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts and to feast on a late harvest of autumn fruits and vegetables. It takes place indoors with family gathered around a table groaning with dozens of traditional heavy and belly-filling dishes.
In contrast, during the eight-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot (seven days in Israel), also called the Festival of Booths, family and friends are invited to eat outdoors in the sukkah, a hut-like, temporary structure built in backyards, patios, and even on condominium balconies (provided they are allowed and space suits the edifices accordingly).
Sukkot harkens back to ancient times, when farmers built flimsy booths for shelter while bringing in the harvest; it also serves as a reminder of the 40 years traveling in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
There is also the tradition of shaking the lulav (palm fronds) and etrog (citron) — two of the “Four Species” or “Four Kinds,” along with the hadas (myrtle leaves) and aravah (willow branches) — and welcoming guests (ushpizin) into the sukkah.
Decorations can be simple or elaborate. Kids can help string cranberries, grapes, and other small fruits for the inside or arrange seasonal flowers. Paper chains are both an activity for young ones and a lasting burst of shape and color. Bright carpets work for the walls and people fill up the eating area with sturdy tables, comfortable chairs, and even cots for those who many want to sleep in the sukkah
When my boys were young, we schlepped to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to gather corn stalks and branches to spread loosely over a roof trellis so that stars could be seen at night (a religious requirement), but still provide shade during the day. Keep in mind that no matter how traditional or attractive fresh produce may be, it can still attract bees and wasps. For those with very young children or who have allergies, they can substitute recyclable plastic fruit and vegetables.
This year, the cooler October weather — Sukkot started on the evening of Sunday, October 13 and lasts through the evening of Sunday, October 20 — may limit visitors in the form of bees and bugs, but also be sure to add some fleece throws in the sukkah to keep cozy.