Posts Tagged ‘Jewish holiday’

Taste of Hebrew: Sukkah

September 26, 2010

Sukkah = hut, booth, “tabernacle,” shelter

Sukkot = plural of sukkah. The name of the holiday we’re in the middle of.

Sukkoh = his sukkah

Homework: See if you can find sukkoh (“his shelter”) in Psalm 27.

Tishrei 16: New Tradition: Post-Sukkah-Dwelling Tick Check

September 24, 2010

sukkah electrification projectMy faithful ol’ “giant-shower-stall” sukkah looks so much smaller and more vulnerable now that it stands on a huge lawn near the woods rather than in an Arlington postage-stamp back yard that was barely any bigger than the sukkah.   Two days into the holiday, I’ve observed a few pros and cons:

Pros:

1. The vulnerability of the little sukkah on the big lawn is so sweet, totally in tune with the holiday themes.

2. It’s so quiet here at night.  Aside from the din of the crickets.  The night air fairly throbs with them.

3. No more light pollution!

4. The nearest neighbors are far enough away from the sukkah that they won’t be disturbed if I drown out the crickets while practicing Ahat Sha’alti on the harmonica.

Cons:

1. There are a lot more mosquitoes out here amongst the protected wetlands, especially on warm nights.  Note to self: Buy more citronella candles.

2. The commute from the sukkah back to the house is a lot longer.  I and my guests can’t just dash back inside for forgotten items or the bathroom.  I even drove my car up and down the long driveway with trunkfuls of sukkah gear several times, just because it was easier and faster.   Now I’m likely to say, “Too bad we forgot that, let’s manage without.”   This is way more like camping.  It occurs to me that now we’re more closely approximating the ancient agrarian experience of our ancestors, who stayed overnight in the fields during the fall harvest!  Hm, maybe this should be a pro rather than a con?

3. It’s DARK at night.  That is, until the candles are lit.  (And the electric sukkah lights are fired up, thanks to some really, really long extension cords.)  This means the commute between the sukkah and the house is more treacherous at night.   So let’s just stay in the sukkah, which has suddenly become even cozier.  See Pro #3 above.

4. There are more animals of all types here, including deer ticks.  Looks like post-sukkah-dwelling tick checks will be de rigeur from now on.  We aren’t in Arlington anymore!

Tishrei 15: The Jewish Camping Holiday

September 22, 2010

Dining
al fresco.

Friends, mosquitoes,
Crickets
Homemade hallah
Homegrown tomatoes
Singing
Looking up through the pine boughs at the full moon, and, later, at the stars.
Delicious evening air.
No TV, no radio, no NPR.  Just crickets.
It’s camping in the back yard.  It’s Sukkot!

Tishrei 13: Sukkot Is Coming

September 17, 2010

image

It’s Day 43 of our 60-day spiritual journey.  If you haven’t already joined in, please come aboard; it’s not too late!

Of all our happy holidays, Sukkot is the only one on which we are actually commanded, straight from the Bible, to Be Joyful.  Now that we’ve been judged on how we behaved during the past year (Rosh haShanah), spent ten days trying to make it right (Ten Days of Return), and got in touch with our purist selves (Yom Kippur), it is time to party.  Yes, it is!

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot always starts on a full moon, on the eve of the 15th of Tishrei. This year (5771) the holiday begins at sundown on Wednesday night, September 22.

Sukkot Basics:

1. Build a sukkah and live in it as much as possible during all seven days of the holiday.  A sukkah is a hut or booth (or “tabernacle”) that we build with a deliberately flimsy structure so that it is quite subject to the weather.   This small hut is built out in the open, directly beneath the sky, not under the shade or protection of other structures or trees.  To make it even more vulnerable, we leave lots of holes in the roof, quite on purpose.  The roofing material, or skhakh (schach), is largely what defines a kosher sukkah.  The skhakh is made entirely of natural material (detached from the ground), provides shade to at least 50% of the sukkah but leaves plenty of holes through which rain can fall.

Living in a vulnerable little house reminds us that ultimately our safety and comfort and happiness all depend on Gd.

My sukkah, with pile of skhakh ready for creating the roof

2. Every morning inside the  sukkah we take up the Four Species and shake them in the six directions.  These comprise the etrog (citron, pictured above), plus three kinds of branches: hadasim (myrtles), ‘aravot (willows), and lulav (palm frond).  The branches are tied together in a bundle that is usually referred to as the lulav.

3. An important part of observing Sukkot is hosting guests in your sukkah. The more the merrier!  In addition to our family, friends, and neighbors, we also invite the “Exalted Guests” in spiritual form, in this specific order: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.  These guests are called ushpizin, which is Aramaic for “guests.”  There’s a wonderful movie called “Ushpizin,” which I highly recommend, for learning more about Sukkot and just for pure entertainment.

4. On Sukkot we read the Biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).  Many famous quotes come from Kohelet, including “To everything there is a season,” “The sun also rises,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and my personal favorite: “Futility of futilities — all is futile!”

If anything in #4 above reminded you of a song, you’re well on your way to experiencing the joy of Sukkot. Singing and dancing, common expressions of joy, are a big part of celebrating this holiday.

Hebrew names for the holiday include

HeHag (The Holiday)
Hag haSukkot (Holiday of Booths, or “Feast of Tabernacles”)
Z’man Simhateinu (Season of Our Joy)

‘Tis the season.  No matter what’s been going on in your life lately, you must now be joyful.   Sing.  Dance.  Find a way.

Tishrei 7: The Purist You

September 15, 2010

What would you look like if you pressed all the way down on your gas pedal?

The  following is from Rabbi Simon Jacobson, about preparing for Yom Kippur.  These questions are so important for all of us to ask ourselves.

What would you look like if you were at your best?

For some reason many of us know all too well what we look like when we are at our worst (that may be a bit too harsh, so let us say, when we are not at our best). But we are far less cognizant of our purest self.  Is it because society beats us up, or because misery loves company?  Whatever the reason, we are rarely dared to discover our fullest potential, and challenged to be at our best (except perhaps at work, but that’s for making money).  That’s why it’s refreshing — one can even say revolutionary — to know that once a year you are asked to do just that: to revisit (or discover for the first time) the real you — as you are at your purest, at your core.  When was the last time you tried that?  Do you have the courage to face your true self?

What would you look like if you pressed all the way down on your gas pedal?

— Rabbi Simon Jacobson

Hebrew notes from your devoted Hebrew teacher (yours truly):

Vocabulary:

Yom = day
Kippur = atonement

Yom Kippur = Day of Atonement

Pronunciation:

Yom: “yome”

Kippur: “keePOOR”

The Chicken and the Eggs: Rosh haShanah Down on the Farm

September 9, 2010

High-pressure afternoon yesterday: Rosh haShanah would begin in just a few hours, my round, holiday hallot — a variation I’d never tried making before — were rising in the oven.  I’d used up the last of my eggs, needed just one more, for glazing the loaves before baking.  So I zipped out to Codman Farm (c. 1740), which raises organic chickens and sells eggs at the Farm Store.

Organic Eggs

Image by Undeleterious via Flickr

Luckily there were two dozen eggs remaining in the store’s fridge; I grabbed one dozen.  As I dropped my $4 into the honor-system pay box, I heard something surprising for that context: low, breathy notes of a flute, wafting from the barn.  I cocked an ear as the notes formed a melody, beautiful and mournful and … familiar.  Wait a second — that’s Avinu Malkeinu!

I went to discover the source, and next thing I knew I was celebrating the eve of Rosh haShanah in a real barn!   The informal, moving service was delightful itself, led by warm, thoughtful people beneath the hayloft; I might have felt moved to blog about my first time davvening in a barn anyway.

Red Star (Sex Link) hen in back yard

Image via Wikipedia

But when, midway through the service, a red chicken wandered calmly through the congregation, heading toward the makeshift bimah as if she planned to cluck some Hebrew liturgy or perhaps even blow the shofar, I just knew I had to share.

L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah!

(“May you have a good and sweet New Year“)