The Jewish holiday of Sukkot — taking place this year from Saturday, September 30 to Friday, October 6 — is a celebration of acceptance and inclusion that spreads across Jewish communities all over the world.
Sukkot is the third celebration of the pilgrimage festivals, referencing the pilgrimages to Jerusalem to make offerings and honor the Holy Temple. It is often referred to as the “Season of our Rejoicing.” It’s not only a festival for unity, but also a harvest celebration.
One of the main details engrained into the history of the Jewish holiday is the symbolization of the “Four Kinds,” represented by a wrapped arrangement of one palm branch, two willows, at least three myrtles, and one citron. The Four Kinds, or the “abra minim,” symbolize four different levels of observance and knowledge of the Torah. Judaism classifies the four “levels” of observance and knowledge of the Torah as Jews who are both knowledgeable and observant of most traditions in the Torah, Jews that are observant but not knowledgeable, Jews that are knowledgeable but not observant, and Jews that are neither observant nor knowledgeable.
The Four Kinds, or the ‘abra minim,’ symbolize four different levels of observance and knowledge of the Torah.
The importance of the holiday in itself is the rejoicing of the entire Jewish community, regardless of knowledge or observance. Jewish unity is symbolized not only with the Four Kinds, but also by sukkahs, or small huts that were occupied by children crossing the desert during the pilgrimages that Sukkot revolves around. The temporary dwellings represent unity by the “holy walls” that surround the people and ceremonies that take place during the week-long holiday.
Due to the variances among Jewish culture, some decorate the small huts elaborately and others simply use natural materials, similar to what would have been used in ancient times. However, with the largest population of Jews outside of Israel in New York, extravagant and artistic sukkahs can be found around the city in the most random places.
In Israel, a couple in the city of Nazareth are trying not only to unite their community of Jewish neighbors, but also their Arab neighbors to join the festivities. They constructed an elaborate sukkah large enough for a celebration of food, dance and prayer, advertised with their 100% Kosher meals and materials that cover the sukkah. The couple explained they wanted to bring their community together, despite the two groups’ stereotyping each other frequently within political topics.
The couple believes the time has come where most of the Nazareth community is an intermix of Arabs and Jews, and the “season of rejoicing” should mean unity among friends and family of many cultural identities where politics can be set aside.
Even some universities are getting involved with inclusivity of their Jewish students and faculty by building sukkahs and offering ceremonial observances on campus. Some colleges participating include Colorado State University, Carleton College and Marymount Manhattan College, just to name a few.
Local candle-lighting and events for your city can be found here.
Sukkot is a holiday of great joy for Judaism, and is a celebration of unity. Chag Sameach!