With the hard labor of Yom Kippur over, it’s time for a little backyard R&R, Torah style.
The festival of Sukkot, which began the evening of Sept. 23 and ends Oct. 1, is one of the most welcome and joyful weeks on the Jewish calendar. So much so, it is referred to in some Jewish texts as “Z’man Simchateinu,” the season of our joy.
With the days still warm, the evenings not yet too cold, we gather with friends and family in the sukkah. There we eat, drink, gaze upon the night sky peeping through the palm fronds, and ponder the imponderables of existence. It’s a taste of the good life at a slower, more human pace.
Our cover story this week describes a recent proactive effort to draw a lot more attention to the holiday of Sukkot. The always-inventive think tank for revitalizing Jewish life, Reboot, sponsored a Sukkot initiative unlike any other we can recall.
Dubbed Sukkah City, the project called on architects to re-imagine the sukkah as we’ve always known it. More than 600 entrants from 43 countries submitted designs. Of those, a dozen finalists were selected by a jury of prominent architects to erect their sukkahs in New York City’s Union Square. Among those top 12 was a pair of Oakland architects, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello.
About 17,000 people, Jews and non-Jews, voted for their favorite, and from that tally a winner was chosen.
While we congratulate the finalists, the real winner of this contest was Sukkot, a holiday that still doesn’t fully resonate with all Jews, and remains a veritable mystery to most non-Jews.
Like many Jewish holidays, Sukkot offers a time not only for joy and fellowship, but for reinforcing familiar lessons.
For one, the flimsiness of the sukkah reminds us of the impermanence of life, of the mercurial nature of Jewish history, in which our people experienced exile and wandering more times than we care to count.
For another, let’s not forget another key feature of this harvest celebration: the lulav and etrog, and the waving of the four species in all directions, symbolizing God’s presence everywhere.
There’s something timelessly Jewish about incorporating artifacts of nature into our observance. We never let ourselves forget the earth from which we spring.
Finally, Sukkot is immediately followed by the holiday of Simchat Torah, when we read the last word of the Torah, then do a fast rewind back to the beginning. Like nature’s cycles, our spiritual cycle begins anew.
It’s all part of the Jewish way to bring us back to our quiet essence.
We wish our readers chag sameach, a joyous Sukkot.