Community festivals celebrate Sukkot with food and fun

Growing up in Massachusetts, Liz Stoll would wear a heavy winter coat to dine in her family’s frigid outdoor sukkah. She won’t need any snow gear to celebrate Sukkot this year.

Stoll is a co-organizer of the first annual Sukkot Harvest Festival, set for Oct. 16 at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. Average daytime temperature in the South Bay on that date: 74 degrees.

The festival is one of several Sukkot celebrations around the Bay Area, from Los Gatos to Berkeley to San Francisco.

For her part, Stoll, a Jewish educator at the JCC, is eager to bring a new Jewish community tradition to the region. “My vision for the JCC is that it be a gathering place for people of all backgrounds to celebrate Jewish life,” she says. “This is a cultural celebration of Sukkot, making it inclusive and relevant.”

With live music, kids’ crafts, food vendors and cooking demos, the free Sukkot Harvest Festival shares some attributes with the annual “To Life!” Jewish street festival in Palo Alto, an event the JCC has retired. The new Sukkot festival will take place entirely on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life.

“We will focus on the harvest and Sukkot-oriented activities for kids to learn the meaning of the holiday,” said Mimi Sells, chief marketing officer of the JCC. “But it will appeal to all ages.”

Central to the weeklong harvest holiday, also known as Festival of Booths, is the construction of a sukkah, a temporary housing structure (or booth). Sukkot, which starts the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 12, is agricultural in origin and celebrated with the waving of the lulav, a bundle of four species native to ancient Israel and ripe with symbolism.

Farther south, the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos has Sukkot programming that includes a sukkah-decorating party Monday, Oct. 10 and a community barbecue Oct. 17. Both events are free, but barbecue reservations are encouraged.

Those looking to celebrate Sukkot in the East Bay can attend the JCC’s feast under the sukkah in Berkeley, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14. Kids can create decorations, and dinner is included (with a $5 contribution requested). Donations also will be accepted for a local women’s shelter; bring new clothing or grooming items.

The JCC of the East Bay is also one of several organizations sponsoring a Sukkot celebration at Urban Adamah, a nonprofit dedicated to ecological and agricultural sustainability, with a Jewish twist. “Eat, Pray, Lulav: A Sukkot Harvest Festival” will feature music, tours, yoga, storytelling, organic kosher yummies and a herd of goats. Tickets are $12 and registration is suggested.

San Franciscans in search of a sukkah will find one at the JCC of San Francisco, which is hosting a week of Sukkot-related programming. A free holiday food sampling takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10, while an opportunity to shmooze in the sukkah with Rabbi Eve Ben-Ora takes place the following day starting at 1 p.m. And single-malt fans, rejoice: There’s also a Sukkot scotch-tasting event the evening of Oct. 18.

At the Palo Alto JCC, Stoll hopes the Sukkot Harvest Festival increases appreciation for a holiday that often gets short shrift on the Jewish calendar.

Sukkot “is not one of the biggies for people who go to synagogue once or twice a year, but I think it’s got a lot of potential as a holiday, especially in the Bay Area,” she says. “This is such an eco-friendly place with lots of farmers markets all around us. The fall season is a great time to celebrate that.”


Schedule of Sukkot events

• The Sukkot Harvest Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. For information, call (650) 223-8700 or visit www.paloaltojcc.org/harvestfest.

• The JCC of the East Bay’s community Sukkot celebration will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at the JCC, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. For information, visit www.jcceastbay.org.

• “Eat, Pray, Lulav: A Sukkot Harvest Festival” takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. Oct. 16 at Urban Adamah farm, 1050 Parker St., Berkeley. Tickets are $12 ($5 for children 14 and younger). For information, call (510) 649-1595 or visit www.urbanadamah.org.

• For information on Sukkot programming at the JCC of San Francisco, call (415) 292-1233 or go to www.jccsf.org.

• For information on Sukkot programming at the Addison-Penzak JCC, call (408) 358-3636 or visit www.siliconvalleyjcc.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.