Our Global Community: The Jewish Festival Of Sukkot

This week (Monday 20th – Monday 27th) Jews around the world celebrate the festival of Sukkot; a holiday for giving thanks for many things, like food, shelter and harvest.

Sukkot, pronounced “sook-koht” or “sook-kuss”, is a week-long Jewish holiday which takes place during the autumn. season. The festival is similar to Thanksgiving, with Jews giving thanks to things like food, shelter and the farmer’s yearly harvests.

The celebration also commemorates the biblical story of the Jews’ escape from Egypt which was followed by 40 years of wandering the desert, living in temporary shelters.

The Hebrew word sukkōt, meaning “booth” or “hut”, is a wall structure covered with plant material and palm leaves. This is in reference to the dwelling farmers would live in during harvesting season and the fragile accommodation the Jews found themselves living in while roaming the desert for 40 years.

Jewish families celebrate the festival by building their own temporary huts and shelters in their gardens or balconies. These temporary huts are known as sukkah, pronounced “sook-kaw”.

The roof covering should be made of something that used to grow in the earth, such as palm leaves or bamboo sticks. The walls however, can be made of any material that keeps the structure solid and protects it from the wind.

Families decorate their sukkah with fruit, vegetables, leaves and even artwork from the children of the family. Traditionally, families will eat meals in the sukkah, while some may even sleep in it during the week-long festival.

The meaning of spending time in such a fragile hut, with most people in modern society living in strong houses or apartments, is to remind the Jewish people that there is only one real source of protection and security; which is God.

The following are some thoughts on the Sukkot by Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, speaking on October 1st 2001. He said: “This evening, we begin the Jewish festival of Sukkot, known in English as Tabernacles.

“It’s a simple festival. We take a palm branch, a citron, and some leaves of myrtle and willow, to remind ourselves of nature’s powers of survival during the coming dark days of winter.

“And we sit in a sukkah, the tabernacle itself, which is just a shed, a shack, open to the sky, with just a covering of leaves for a roof. It’s our annual reminder of how vulnerable life is, how exposed to the elements.

“And yet we call Sukkot our festival of joy, because sitting there in the cold and the wind, we remember that above us and around us are the sheltering arms of the divine presence.

“If I were to summarise the message of Sukkot I’d say it’s a tutorial in how to live with insecurity and still celebrate life.

“And living with insecurity is where we’re at right now. In these uncertain days, people have been cancelling flights, delaying holidays, deciding not to go to theatres and public places. The physical damage of September 11th may be over; but the emotional damage will continue for months, maybe years, to come.

“Yesterday a newspaper columnist wrote that looking back, future historians will call ours ‘the age of anxiety.’ How do you live with the fear terror creates?

“For our family, it’s brought back memories of just over ten years ago. We’d gone to live in Israel for a while before I became Chief Rabbi, to breathe in the inspiration of the holy land and find peace. Instead we found ourselves in the middle of the Gulf War.

“Thirty-nine times we had to put on our gas masks and take shelter in a sealed room as SCUD missiles rained down. And as the sirens sounded we never knew whether the next missile would contain chemical or biological warheads or whether it would hit us.

“It should have been a terrifying time, and it was. But my goodness, it taught me something. I never knew before just how much I loved my wife, and our children. I stopped living for the future and started thanking God for each day.

“And that’s when I learned the meaning of Tabernacles and its message for our time. Life can be full of risk and yet still be a blessing.

“Faith doesn’t mean living with certainty. Faith is the courage to live with uncertainty, knowing that God is with us on that tough but necessary journey to a world that honours life and treasures peace.”

For more information on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, please visit:

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