Jewish time of celebration filled with hope, fraught with adversity

I By Kelly Holden

The IUPUI Sagamore
Indiana University and
Purdue University at Indianapolis

iNDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 30 – As a brisk, moist fall takes the place of a suffocating summer season, the Jewish community celebrates its season of thanksgiving before Thanksgiving.

The celebration Sukkot, part of this fall holiday season, consists in part of reconnecting to nature and, among other things, includes building a temporary structure called a Sukkah.

A Sukkah is a three-sided hut built to be temporary, yet strong enough to stand against wind and other elements. Its roof, while capable of shielding sunrays, is also meant to allow the stars to be seen.

Decoration of the Sukkah includes symbols of harvest such as fruits and vegetables, corn stalks, hanging gourds and pictures.

The Sukkah’s structure comes from the tradition of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the dessert for 40 years, and living in temporary huts in the wilderness.

Four days after Yom Kippur, the Sukkah is built for celebration of harvest and prayer for the harvest to come. Its size, not more than 30 feet tall, is meant for gathering people to both spend time in and dine in, the structure being the place for at least one daily meal.

“It is also a place to invite guests,” Cantor Judy Meyersberg of the Bureau of Jewish Education said.

The Sukkot (plural for Sukkah) are built as a place to rest and relax as well as eating meals. Sukkot are built in people’s yards, though there are also some built onto apartment balconies and patios.

Sukkot’s harvest runs parallel with the secular calendar harvest season, but the festival is in accordance with Israel’s rain season.

“Sukkot follows the weather patterns of Israel. The rain comes after Simchat Torah [the celebration on the last day of Sukkot] and ends right before Passover,” Meyersberg said.

“It’s like God opens up a faucet and then turns it off again.”

As the Sukkot are open-air gathering places, the elements do present problems.

“Sukkot begins with a rain prayer for the beginning of the next growing season,” Rabbi Lewis Weiss of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation said.

Sometimes there is no wait to get into these celebratory structures and begin festivities, but Indiana’s storms during the current season are just one example of the adverse and unpredictable challenges the Sukkot face. “When you’re fighting tornados,” Meyersberg said, “it’s not so comfortable.”

While the Sukkot are structures with a long tradition, Weiss notes their relevance today. “There are two lessons that can be learned from the Sukkah,” she said.

“One is that there are so many homeless people on any given night…the closing of Dayspring Center (a downtown homeless shelter) helps us to think of those people, and reminds us of our duty to work for justice for the poor and hungry.”

The other lesson is that the Sukkah is a symbol of the environment.

“The Sukkah remind us of our dependence on and close relationship to the environment,” Meyersberg said, “that we only have God to protect us.”