What?! Succot?

Standing in front of the locked doors of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Center gym, I read the notice, "Closed for Succot," with bewilderment.

September 25, 2007 07:02
2 minute read.
sukkah 88 224

sukkah 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Standing in front of the locked doors of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Center gym, I read the notice, "Closed for Succot," with bewilderment. We'd recently moved from the small town of Port Moody, British Columbia, and I'd never heard of Succot (or any Jewish holiday other than Hanukka, which I had thought the main event of the year). To say that my Jewish education was poor is an understatement: It wasn't until I was 10 and my family moved from our scenic inlet to the landlocked Midwest that the High Holy Days and Pessah entered my universe. But Succot? A mystery. I asked my father what it was all about. And though Daddy usually knows best, he was at a loss this time, shrugging it off, and said, "Some minor Jewish holiday." (Later, fed up by all these "minor" holidays, my family got a membership at the more remote YMCA instead.) It wasn't until many years later that Succot resurfaced in my life, as I walked the streets of Jerusalem a few weeks after my arrival in the country. To the uninitiated, the holiday looks rather bizarre: Suddenly little, mostly prefabricated, huts spring up in every available nook and cranny. (In my neighborhood, where space is at a premium, the skeletal shells of these makeshift shelters encircle our parking lot well before Yom Kippur.) The municipality trims the streets' unsightly foliage and residents start hoarding fronds. Then they hang Christmas and Thanksgiving decorations in their huts, accompanied by a few biblical Patriarchs, and decide that it's a good idea to leave the roof with gaping holes. In the center of town, people buzz about purchasing an ugly lemon and pay exorbitant sums for a few stalks of kosher greenery, some of which is commonly found in most neighborhoods. And at the end of the holiday, they beat the floor with them. I didn't get it. Then I saw how jolly everyone was, how happy to host a friendless/familyless newcomer. It reminded me of my favorite holiday back in the old country, Thanksgiving. Recently I discovered that this may not be coincidental: Apparently the fundamentalist Christian Pilgrims latched onto the biblical holiday when celebrating their first harvest in a strange land. According to Mayflower historian Caleb Johnson, "The Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas and Easter. These holidays were invented by man to memorialize Jesus, and are not prescribed by the Bible or celebrated by the early Christian churches, and therefore cannot be considered holy days." Therefore, Succot was the logical choice for these well-versed pious people: In the Bible the holiday is so significant it is referred to by a unique Hebrew moniker, "hehag," meaning The festival. Indeed, it is so important that another, more minor, Jewish celebratory holiday - Hanukka - adopted its eight-day structure.

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