This past week, Jewish communities around the world have been celebrating the Jewish Fall Harvest Festival of Sukkot. This holiday concludes the month-long High Holy Day season and Season of Repentance on the Jewish calendar, and emphasizes humanity’s relationship with the outdoors.
One of the rituals of the holiday is to build a sukkah, a booth or temporary structure, outdoors with a roof made of branches and natural products. These booths are meant to resemble the temporary dwelling places that the Israelites resided in while wandering throughout the wilderness. Through the tree branches above, one can still see the stars in the sky, and while the branches may offer shade, they certainly do not offer protection from nature’s elements, a reminder of the fragility of life.
The festival of Sukkot is also referred to in Hebrew as Z’man Simchateinu, the season of joy and, after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it is meant to be a festive celebration. One custom of Sukkot is Ushpizin, the act of inviting honored guests into the sukkah. While this began as a symbolic gesture of inviting in biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, it has been an opportunity to welcome in members of the community to join in the celebratory festival.
On Sunday, October 4, Congregation Beth El welcomed local leaders into their sukkah as this year’s Ushpizin, greeting members of the South Orange Village Board of Trustees and the Maplewood Township Committee as honored guests. This was an opportunity for the congregation to mingle with village officials, but also for these local leaders to spend time getting to know the customs of the community.
“Sukkot is first and foremost about community,” said Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El. “One of the customs of Sukkot is gathering together four species: the palm branch, the myrtle branches, the willow branches, and the citron fruit. All four are very different in taste and smell. Yet, we gather them together to remind us how important it is to bring together all facets of community.” He added: “Part of being a faith community is strengthening our relationship with the larger community. For this reason, we were thrilled to welcome our local leaders into our sukkah and celebrate our holiday with them.”
Congregation Beth El continues its holiday celebrations with the observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, including Simchat Torah celebrations on Monday night, October 5 at 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday morning, October 6 beginning at 9:30 a.m. More information about Beth El’s holiday celebrations can be found at bethelnj.org.