Author Topic: Sukkot, a festival full of joy, begins  (Read 566 times)

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Sukkot, a festival full of joy, begins
« on: October 13, 2008, 07:22:04 PM »

Temporary structures symbolize the Jews' flight from Egypt

By  TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writer
First published in print: Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ALBANY `” In a neighborhood of large homes, the one-room house of plywood walls and a roof of tree branches stands out.
But the shelter's presence is a sign of joy, a celebration of the holiday of Sukkot that marks God's guiding the Jewish people from Egypt. The eight-day festival, which started Monday at sundown, features a sukkah, a hut meant to commemorate how the Jewish people lived in the desert. "You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths," according to the Book of Leviticus.

Some live in the makeshift structure for a week. Others eat their meals there.

"During the eight days, we live here as if it is our house," said Ronen Levi Yitzchak Segal, a University at Albany graduate who returned to the city to celebrate the festival with the family of Jay Bindell, who live at Davis Avenue and Cortland Street in the Buckingham Pond neighborhood.

Sukkot follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and the recurring theme is reconnecting with God, Bindell said. While the other High Holy Days have a somber side, he said, "in this holiday, the motif is all joy. It is a time of togetherness, of unity and of joy."

"When your kids are little, it's like having a picnic every night," said Rabbi Beverly Magidson, director of chaplaining services for the United Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York.

She recalled one year when she was rabbi at Beth Sholom in Clifton Park.

"Our sukkah blew over the night before the holiday," she said. When she returned home, she found her next-door neighbors, one a born-again Christian and the other Roman Catholic, restoring it. "It's a holiday that celebrates the bounty of the Earth, but also recognizes how fragile our lives are on the Earth," Magidson said.

At the Hebrew Academy in Colonie, students will eat lunch this week inside a sukkah and learn about the holiday's customs, said Rabbi Rami Strosberg, head of the school. On Friday, grandparents and guests will join the children. Inviting people in is part of the celebration.

The students also learn about the lulav (a palm branch); etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel); hadas (myrtle branches); and arava (willow branches). They learn to wave the branches in celebration.

There are different interpretations of the plants' symbolism.

"The Bible gives no reason for them, so we work to find our own lessons," Magidson said. One interpretation, she said, is that the citrus represents the heart, the palm the spine, the willow the lips and the myrtle the eyes.

Segal said the citrus has both smell and taste, so it refers to a person who has both good character and engages in positive acts. Willow has neither smell nor fruit to taste, so it refers to someone who lacks character and good deeds. Myrtle has a smell, but no fruit, which represents a person who does good deeds but lacks character, while palms stand for someone who has good character traits but fails to act.

"We hold all four together," Segal said. "It is an acknowledgement that even if one Jewish person is missing, the Jewish population is not complete."

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