WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: If you’ve seen makeshift structures popping up in your neighborhood recently, don’t be alarmed—it’s a tradition for Jewish families, who will this year be starting the joyful week-long festival of Sukkot tonight. (For more, visit Judaism101.) As is commanded in the Torah, Jews must observe this festival by dwelling in something similar to the fragile, temporary homes the ancient Israelites constructed while they were spending 40 years in the desert, following the Exodus from Egypt. (While we’re on the subject of the Exodus from Egypt, have you heard about the scientific study that recently proved that the parting of the Red Sea was at least possible? Check out a story on it here.)
Before Sukkot, Jews will gather scraps of materials to construct shelters, most often placed it in their backyards; many public Jewish buildings also will have a sukkah in front of their entryways during this festival. For seven days, many Jews transfer their residence to the sukkah, where they feast with family, sleep, and spend as much time as possible in the sukkah. (Wikipedia has details.) Specific Jewish teachings require that the structure must have a roof made of something that grew in the ground (like branches or dried vegetation), and the roof must be made sparse enough to let rain through, but dense enough to retain more shade than sun.
Once the sukkah is completed to standards, the fun begins! Sukkahs are often decorated with dried vegetables, children’s artwork and lots of other colorful items. (Chabad.org compares the likeness of a family decorating a sukkah to a family decorating a Christmas tree.) Sukkahs are often decorated to reflect the constructor(s), too—according to a recent news article, Union Square Park has been transformed into “Sukkah City” over the past few days, when Jews competed with their unique sukkahs to become finalists in the “City.” Of 600 entries, 12 versions were put on display for visitors at Union Square.
If sukkahs can be decorated in almost any way, they also can be constructed anywhere—a Jewish soldier in Kuwait, featured in an article on Aish.com, demonstrated how even remote conditions are no excuse not to keep Sukkot tradition. According to the article, this soldier’s sukkah withstood sandstorms that knocked down other, more permanent structures on the base.
Be sure to wish your Jewish friends a joyous and happy Sukkot today!