Are you familiar with Sukkot, the Jewish festival also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or The Feast of Booths? Booths, you ask? Not telephone booths, not dunking or kissing booths, but temporary shelters the Israelites lived in during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
(This post is part of something larger, hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs!)
So the Israelites left 430 years of slavery in Egypt in what was the largest exodus, or migration of any people–2.5 million people!
They didn’t stop to make condominiums or apartments. No need for realtors or neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs but rather, be unencumbered to keep trusting and moving as G-d led them using a cloud by day and a fire by night. Exodus 13:21
So they dwelt in these booths and this was one of the ways the Lord provided. This was tough terrain! No misting sprays or air-conditioned cars, no camel packs, or sports drinks. They trusted and went, each week shaking off some of their old securities and insecurities as slaves.
Sukkoth always begins on the 15th day of Tishri, the Hebrew month which uses a lunar calendar. It’s always a fall festival. In Japanese, as is relevant for my family and the place in which we live, it is called Kari o no Matsuri.
(This is the lovely Hakone, Japan, not the infinite buildings of my Tokyo).
In the book of Leviticus, 23:42 on, we are called to dwell in these booths for seven days. There is much to say about it, but if you were to construct a sukkah, you’d need very basic walls. They can even be frames alone. The roof should allow the light of the moon and stars to be seen. Again, it’s temporary. No one will win any contest for building a mini model home. Its very purpose is temporary.
In fact, one thing I love about Sukkoth is the parallel between our life on earth and the building. Our lives are sadly, quite temporary. But even so, we see the beauty of God’s creation. We fix our eyes on that which will remain.
The light streams in, even in the night. Life on earth can be fraught with difficulty, but Sukkoth is a festival accompanied by singing and dancing, a celebration of water, blessings over wine. Taking place at harvest time, kids often string fruit and vegetables indicative of the harvest.
Jewish people have been spread out over the earth in the term “diaspora”. Heck, I’m in Japan, right? Everywhere Jews are building and seeking to dwell in their own temporary booth to celebrate God’s faithfulness and the harvest they have been able to reap. So the branches that cover a family’s sukkah in Israel will be different branches than a family in Buenos Aires or in Washington DC. The fruit that hangs, maybe mangos and avocados in Miami will not be the same fruit a child ties to strings in his family’s sukkah in Lisbon.
And then there’s the meal! In our sukkah in Tokyo, Japan, we may bridge Japanese foods with Ashkenazi Jewish foods and include some American touches, too. But the greenery, the plants? All of that reflects where we are now, where the same Mighty God is leading us. Last year, we made our seven-day beauty of a booth on the roof of our building and looked out at trains on a monorail. Our children strung Japanese veggies like renkon (lotus root), kabocha, and spiny cords of rosemary stretched overhead filled the space with fragrance.
There is “Feast of Booths” written in Japanese, Kari o No Matsuri.
We feasted at night and slept under the sukkah, under moon and stars. It’s like combining Thanksgiving and camping! With food! And wine! And glad hearts. You may have game night inside, singing and guitar playing. Every bit of your sukkah and dwelling inside will reflect who you are as a family or person right now in this season.
So my point is, don’t merely go the Pinterest route, thinking it has to be one way. Use what you have and build it with love, whether on a roof, on the sand, near a clump of trees, or using a wall of your garage. It sure was easy to get plenty of palm fronds for our sukkah when we lived near the beach in south Florida. You could ask anyone for snippings from their yard and get loads of banana leaves, too. Here, in Tokyo, a mega-city? Not so much.
So we use what we can get. This is city life, right? One friend even drives down from her parents’ home almost two hours north. You threaten to go to public parks and cut down their trees, or help yourself to our rose garden’s gorgeous ginkgo branches. In the end, though, God always provides.
Draw inspiration from your heritage as Jews and as people sojourning on this earth, speaking dialects and enjoying the fruit of whatever land you’re in. Make it your own.
One wonderful friend makes her sukkah in Phoenix, Arizona, where her family resides. Last year they used brilliant bougainvillea to cover the roof. Gorgeous, but she says they won’t do that again. Too spiky, she said.
This is the same sukkah at night. (Don’t worry if yours is more cardboard and newsprint than such luxury! Just be inspired). It’s amazing what a little swatch of cloth and some stringy lights can do! Talk about inviting!
I know, isn’t it grand? You should here about their menus–a rich mix of Sephardic recipes and produce that reflects the southwest and Mexican flair of the region. I joked that they could just sling a saguaro cactus up on top to really reflect the desert. Follow @blooming_the_negev on Instagram for more from my friend!
Another friend says she and her children keep the decorations year to year. I think this is great and wonderful and I’d probably do it if the paper chains we make didn’t get so smooshed or tired-looking holding up to the wind or passing showers. Thing is, there weren’t any huge Tupperware bins from Target or Walgreens for the Israelites to store their craft stuff in and drag it round and round. They built as they went and we can trust, too, that we’ll have just what we need year by year to celebrate all God supplies.
For more specific guidelines on building your sukkah, click here.
This year, on the roof of our building at some very tiny location that Google Maps can pinpoint, we will be there, feasting and laughing, under the booth. Under the same moon and gleaming stars as all of you, the same celestial body that our ancestors marveled at. We’ll wave the same lulav and etrog, whispering and declaring the same prayers.
It’s the scent, though, the spice in our meals, the flowers that we weave under the canopy of stars that tells of our migration and Exodus, everything leading us to this point. It is the continuation of a festival, every year a bit different, that tells our story.
It doesn’t have to be the hottest thing on the internet, pinned by a thousand women on Pinterest. Enjoy! Have fun in the building and then dwelling inside, unfettered by all of the distractions that take place inside our regular homes. Get ready to marvel at such simplicity of design and all the ways you’ve made Sukkoth and this booth your own.
The High Holidays are a very special time for families, and we’ve got great ideas for how you can celebrate with the children in your life! Visit the blogs below, plus see our blog hop from last year, and be sure to visit our Jewish High Holidays board on Pinterest:
All Done Monkey on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Gluten Free Rosh Hashanah Recipes
Melibelle in Tokyo: How to Make Sukkot Your Own
Kelly’s Classroom: Kids’ Writing about Rosh Hashanah
Moms & Crafters: Apple in Honey DIY Felt Rosh Hashanah Toy
More interesting takes on the sukkah:
On wheels, Pedi-Sukkahs in NY city and four other global location
A sukkah with living, green walls in Park Slope–inspiring innovation many of us would want to spend inside
An LA man hunts for the perfect canopy, or schach–corn stalks, dried flowers, and bamboo mats are mentioned
What kind of sukkah will you make this year?