Item the First: I’ve been posting a lot over the past 24 hours (for me, at any rate!). So please don’t miss:
- Yesterday afternoon’s post about the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal (joy tempered by big doses of fury with the Israeli government)
- Today’s very fun and incredibly busy Open Thread (as of this writing, 299 comments and counting!)
- The deeply moving It Gets Better video put out by the Whirlpool Corporation and
- My brief obituary for American hero and gay rights pioneer Franklin Kameny.
Item the Second: I’ve added a couple of links to the blogroll, under “The Lovely Folks @ Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Place” – you really should check out all of those lovely folks, because to a folk, they are all doing stuff that you don’t see elsewhere on the web, and on top of being really, really smart, they’re often really, really funny. Check it, people!
Item the Third: The Jewish holiday of Sukkot starts at sundown today (in, like, an hour. Yikes!), so once again, I’mma be off the radar for a bit (but only until tomorrow night, because we keep the Israeli custom of marking only one day for all holidays but Rosh Hashana — and yes I realize I’ve probably just confused you more than you already were). If you don’t know what the heck Sukkot is, no fear! You’ll find an explanation I wrote for the kids’ classes after the jump + a comment that I left in the open thread, explaining why it’s absolutely my fave holiday.
If you’re celebrating: Chag sameah – a happy holiday to you! And if you’re not, well heck. Have a lovely middle of the week!
And Item the Final: If you get stuck in moderation, I or my Shabbes goy (aka the husband) will get you out as soon as we can. Pinky swear!
We read in the Torah, the Jewish Bible, that the early Jews used to build huts in their fields during the harvest, and that they would live there while they were bringing in their yearly crops. For this reason, every fall, we build a small hut in our yards, and eat our meals there all week long. This hut is called a sukka – the plural form is sukkot. Some families sleep in their sukka during the week, but we haven’t yet!
But even more important than remembering our history is the religious role that the sukka plays. We’re taught that when the ancient Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt, they had to wander in the desert for 40 years. During that time, they didn’t have permanent homes, of course, but only temporary shelters, much like our sukka. By spending time in our sukkot, the Jewish people are reminded of that time, and that even though today we no longer wander in the wilderness, we must always remember to be grateful for what we have.
To help us remember, we’re told exactly how to build the sukka: It can’t have permanent walls, and it can’t have a real roof – the roof must be made of some living material, like leaves or reeds, and you have to be able to see the stars through it at night. Judaism teaches that when we see the stars, we’re reminded that God is much greater than we are, that we are dependent on Him and should be grateful – for the food of our harvest, for our homes, for every good thing that we have. (In fact, I’ve heard that the American holiday of Thanksgiving – the American harvest holiday during which we give thanks for all that we have – is based on the Biblical holiday of Sukkot).
Finally, Sukkot is also an important time for having guests over. We’re taught to invite friends, loved ones, and even strangers into our sukka, to offer them food and drink and be welcoming hosts. By coming to our sukka, you’re helping us to perform this important mitzvah (commandment or good deed)!
From the Open Thread comments, me replying to Craig: Sukkot is actually such a great way to scratch that “but those other kids get to drag this crazy thing into their house and decorate it!” itch, I honestly don’t understand why more Jews aren’t all over it, at least while the kids are still at home. And I say this as someone who grew up doing that “dragging the crazy thing into the house” deal, and was a little sad that my own kids wouldn’t get to have that piece of fun in their lives.
You build this flimsy little hut in your backyard/on your porch, you decorate it with bright lights + whatever lovely or kitchsy things have grabbed your fancy + handmade decorations that the kids have been gathering since their first year of Jewish preschool/Hebrew school, you eat out there in all kinds of crazy weather and even sleep out there if you want, giving it a huge air of adventure and excitement — Sukkot is, bar none, my favorite holiday. All four of us love it. (AND we have a sukka kit that goes up in 40 minutes flat, so it’s not even onerous on any level. Except when it rains and you have to spread the bamboo mat that serves as the sachach [roof] out in the basement to let it dry completely before you roll it up and put it away for a year. Because – beware the mold!)