Leona Uchitelle

Sukkot is a week-long Jewish holiday that comes five days after Yom Kippur.

This year it will begin at sunset on Sunday, Oct. 13, and it continues until nightfall on Sunday, Oct. 20.

Sukkot is an agricultural festival that celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the miraculous protection God provided for the Israelites when they left Egypt.

It was originally a harvest festival, considered a thanksgiving for the harvest. It has been reinterpreted as a festival that commemorates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert after the revelation at Mount Sinai.

The word “Sukkot” is a Hebrew word meaning booth or hut.

The actual Sukkah is a temporary hut in which the farmers would have lived in their fields, as they completed the last of their gathering of their crops before the winter rains.

Today, as soon after the conclusion of Yom Kippur as is possible, the building of the Sukkah begins, with the hut representing the temporary shelters that were lived in during the 40-year trek.

The actual Sukkah is a flimsy building, with at least three sides open. The roof is usually made of branches that allow the stars to be seen at night and to provide shade from the daytime sun. Traditionally, the walls are decorated with fruit and leaves, representing the harvest.

Families are encouraged to spend as much time in these temporary shelters as possible, eating at least one meal a day in them.

The symbolism of eating in these shelters is to remind us of the simpler things in life — that material possessions are not that necessary and that our very existence is fragile.

Sukkot is our only festival when it is commanded that we rejoice. It is a holiday referred to as “the season of our joy.”

In the Sukkah we have a ceremony in which we hold and shake four species of plants found in the Holy Land: palm, myrtle, willow and citron, which is much like a large lemon.

We recite a prayer while holding and shaking the plants and holding the citron. We shake in six directions: up, down, north, south, east and west. We recite the blessing, thanking God for sustaining us, keeping us alive and bringing us to this season.

The greeting for this holiday is “Chag Sameach” — Happy Holiday.

Leona Uchitelle is active in the Jewish Center of Venice.^p


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