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Jewish Holiday Sukkot.

Updated on February 15, 2015

As I’ve already mentioned many times, I am Jewish by blood and spirit, but I am not religious. What does it mean? It means that I am not attending synagogue, I do not keep kosher laws at home, and I do not pray with printed prayers. I praise God above everything and I glorify Him for all the miracles he gives me. I make my own choices and I don't need religion to tell me what to do. I just follow God from within of myself.

I belong to Jewish family and for me being Jewish is not a nationality, not religion, but it is exactly what I’ve said- it is a family. And I follow my family ways, even if I do it not strictly according the rules.

We celebrate Jewish holidays and though we do not observe them rightly from the formal point of view, we do it from our heart, with all the love and devotion to the family.

My story about Jewish holiday Sukkot will be not from the religious point of view, but from the point of view of a person who just enjoys it.

From sadness to joy.

The Jewish holiday Sukkot (also spelt Sukkoth), is celebrated in fall (September or October of Gregorian Calendar). It begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur, and falls on 15th of Jewish month Tishrei. I wrote about Jewish Calendar and how it works in my hub about Rosh Hashana.

Rosh Hashanah starts a new Jewish year (number) and the period considered the High Holy Days, which is a time of contemplation, of prayer and reflections, time of forgiveness. This period ends with Yom Kippur which is the most solemn day. It is very typical of Jewish tradition that a solemn period drastically turns into joyful period and transition from Yom Kippur to Sukkot remarkably represents unbroken Jewish soul.

In ancient times of Temple, Jews living outside of Jerusalem were making pilgrimages to Jerusalem to participate in festivals. There were three pilgrimage festivals (in Hebrew- Shalosh Regaim) and Sukkot is the last of them.

Holiday Sukkot is a festival of autumn harvest and at the same time historically it commemorates the time when Bnei Israel (Sons of Israel) spent in the dessert, wondering there for forty years before they came into the Promised Land. During this time they lived in temporary shelters, booths.

My son and his friends in their own Sukkah in the process of decorating it.
My son and his friends in their own Sukkah in the process of decorating it.
Children's first Sukkah, as you may buy it on Amazon until supply lasts.
Children's first Sukkah, as you may buy it on Amazon until supply lasts.

It is not a "Festival of Tabernacles", it is "Festival of Booths"

The Hebrew word "Sukkot" (plural) means "booths," (Sukkah- a booth). The Holiday Sukkot lasts for seven days, with no work permitted on the first and second days of Sukkot, but on the rest of the days of the holiday (which are called in Hebrew “Chol Ha-Mo'ed”) work is permitted.

Many times I came across an English name for the Festival of Sukkot as “Festival of Tabernacles". When I checked the Hebrew translation of the word “tabernacles”, I found out that it was translated as “mishkan”, also meaning “sanctuary”. When I researched further, I became positive that mistranslation of the word resulted in misleading of the meaning.

"Tabernacle" (“mishkan”) is a portable Sanctuary in the desert, where people prayed. But "sukkah" (plural: "sukkot") was a temporary booths that people lived in.

In the memory of those temporary “living quarters” during wandering in the desert, Jews dwell in temporary shelters during the holiday of Sukkot.

When I was a child and lived in the Soviet Union, one our favorite outdoor activities was building a “shalash” (Russian word for shelter, built with branches), the same as American kids love to build a “fort”- I know this, because my little neighbors always build several “forts” during the summer. When we lived in Israel, my son and his friends built their own “Sukkah” every year.

You are supposed to "dwell" in a sukkah, but you don’t have to take it to the word. While it is said that you should spend as much time in the sukkah as possible, even sleeping in it, you can satisfy the tradition simply having meals there.

Image from http://www.childrenshospital.org
Image from http://www.childrenshospital.org
Urban Sukkah
Urban Sukkah

How to build a Sukkah

There are some certain rules how to build a sukkah. A sukkah should have at least two and a half walls of its own. It means that you may build it attached to the wall of your house, or even you may put it on your balcony (and in Israel many people who live in cities, place booths on their balconies). You may build just a frame (the walls don’t have to be solid) and nail or tie canvas or fabric cloth to it. Just make sure that the wind won’t blow “the walls”.

The roof of the Sukkah should be something natural, grown and then cut off, like tree branches, sticks, corn stalks. The roof should be put on loose, so that the skies are seen through the roof.

In Israel the time of Sukkot is usually the time of the first rain after rain-free summer. The first rain of the year is called “Yoreh” and all the people rejoice for the first rain, as rain means life for Israel. If it rains, the roof of the sukkah may be covered to protect what is inside the Sukkahh, but when you dwell in your Sukkah, the cover must be removed.

The best part of building a Sukkah is decorating it. I suppose that like Christians are exited to decorate a Christmas tree, the same way Jewish people feel about decorating their booths. It’s a fun project, quality family time.

There is an opinion that Thanksgiving as a harvest holiday might have a lot in common with Sukkoth. Some historians consider that the Pilgrims, who were deeply religious people, took the way to express their thanks for the harvest from the Bible (the way of celebrating Sukkot). 

What makes Four Species.

Etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon native to Israel; a citron in English)
Etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon native to Israel; a citron in English)
a palm branch (in Hebrew, lulav)
a palm branch (in Hebrew, lulav)
three myrtle branches (hadassim).
three myrtle branches (hadassim).
two willow branches (aravot)
two willow branches (aravot)
The images are from http://www.4minim.com/, the best place to order your Four Species
The images are from http://www.4minim.com/, the best place to order your Four Species

Etrog and Lulav

The Bible commands to take the Four Species (“arba minim in Hebrew), four plants (etrog, lulav, hadas, arava) and "rejoice before the God our Lord" with them.

These four plants are used because of their symbolic significance. They represent different parts of the body and also they represent different kinds of Jews.

The long straight palm branch represents the spine. The small myrtle leaf represents the eye. The long oval willow leaf represents the mouth, and the etrog represents the heart.

The etrog, which is shaped like a heart, symbolizes the driving force behind our actions. Etrog has both a pleasant taste and a pleasant scent, it represents Jews who have achieved both knowledge of Torah and performance of good deeds.

The date palm branch, which produces date fruit, that has a good taste, but has no scent, represents Jews who have knowledge of Torah but are lacking good deeds.

The myrtle leaf, which has a strong scent but no taste, represents Jews who perform good deeds but have little knowledge of Torah.

The willow, which has neither taste nor scent, represents Jews who have no knowledge of Torah and do not perform the good deeds.

All four of these species are brought together on Sukkot to symbolize us as People, to remind that every one of these four kinds of Jews is important, and that we must all be united. All together we are People, a family of Jews.

The branches are tied together and collectively are called “lulav”, because the palm branch is the biggest. The etrog is held separately.

To recite a blessing, you should hold these four species in hand and wave the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down), symbolizing the fact that God our Lord is everywhere.

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    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR

      ReuVera 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thank you, pitzele. I am glad to become your fan!

    • pitzele profile image

      pitzele 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Lovely hub! I enjoyed reading it probably as much as you enjoyed writing it. And, yes, as much as there are many rules and regs surrounding the observance of the fesitval, this specific holiday one is commanded to be "only happy" - so, in other words, ENJOY yourself! I think that I will read more of your works.

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR

      ReuVera 

      7 years ago from USA

      RabbiDanyiel, I am honored that you've visit and read my hub. Good words from you mean a lot.

      As you can tell, I am "a bow".

      I will appreciate a lot if you find time to read my other hubs on Jewish topics.

    • RabbiDanyiel profile image

      RabbiDanyiel 

      7 years ago

      I am an Orthodox Rabbi but I was not always an Orthodox Rabbi. Religion, faith, belief, etc, this is all on a journery of trying to get closer to HaShem, G-d Almighty. We are taught that there are to ways to pray, one is the sword and one is the bow. Set prayers from the Siddur is the sword. Personal prayers from the heart is the bow. Every one is at their own personal level and each step has potential to draw you closer on the path to connecting with the Almighty. This Hub on Sukkot is a great little teaching on what Sukkot is and how we perform it, thank you for sharing your insights.

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR

      ReuVera 

      8 years ago from USA

      Uliya, thank you so much, my friend! I appreciate your visit! Love you.

      By the way, the hub about next Jewish holiday Hanukkah is on the way.

    • profile image

      uliya 

      8 years ago

      ReuVera, the more I read your hubs the more I learn about people, traditions, etc. It's like reading an encyclopedia. Want to know something? Just visit Reuvera hubpages! Enjoyable reading! Great!

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR

      ReuVera 

      8 years ago from USA

      Love and Peace, Pracetio! This is most important in diverse relationships. Thank you so much!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      As a Muslim I really appreciate other religion, like Jewish. The most important thing is I learn much from Jewish holiday. Thanks for share with us.

      Love and Peace

      Prasetio

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR

      ReuVera 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Sheila!

      Now I think I should really put more traditional information, like, for example, about different shapes of Sukkah that are derived from the appearance of Hebrew letters making the word "sukkah". Or why the roof should be loose. Maybe I should do it...

      But sometimes it is more fun just to get the feeling of a holiday, even without knowing the strict meaning of things.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      8 years ago

      I like the way you wrote this, easy to understand and get a feel for the holiday.

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR

      ReuVera 

      8 years ago from USA

      Angeline, thank you, thank you! I like to write about Jewish traditions, but since I am not into religion, I don't want to be too serious and I like to make my "Jewish" hubs more fun and enjoyable. One of my friends once told me, "You are not religious, so you are not a real Jew", and I answered, "No, I am not a real Jew, I am just Jew-ish".

      This what makes us a real family- our ability to laugh no matter what.

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR

      ReuVera 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Vladimir! You are the first to read a comment!

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 

      8 years ago

      When I lived next to a Jewish neighbor, we would get together to build the Sukkoth. We had so much fun, trying branches and fruits and vegetables and then having dinner under it. I love those times. Too bad, we move away. I love your clear explaination. Nicely done and rated awesome.

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 

      8 years ago from HubPages, FB

      ReuVera, great article. Thanks.

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