Although the summer days are long and hot, my thoughts have turned to the Jewish holiday cycle that will soon be upon us. Beginning with Rosh ha-Shanah, we spend a week and a half turning inward to sometimes difficult self-reflection, chanting our ancient, quiet prayers, and finally, fasting in somber repentance on Yom Kippur. The Days of Awe are radically unlike any other part of my year. Jews during this time exist in a sacred space that is part of the world, but also apart from it; it is always a challenging time for me, a Reform Jew in the modern world, a communal and personal moment of reckoning.
Immediately after Yom Kippur, though, we begin to reenter the regular world with an eye toward the practical, as we celebrate the Jewish harvest holiday in the festival of Sukkot. Preparation for Sukkot (which means "booths" or tabernacles in Hebrew, representing the little huts set up alongside the fields during harvest in ancient times) involves the quite literally grounding act of building a sukkah, whether in our own backyard or with our synagogue. During the Days of Awe we engaged in quiet reflection; at Sukkot, we are busy giving thanks to God with hammer and nails!
Once built, the sukkot are decorated with photos of the ancestors, and all manner of colorful paper chains, tissue paper flowers, and magic marker drawings hanging from yarn--the provenance of the children of the family, who are thrilled to be included in the creation of what is, after all, really just a wonderful playhouse.
Sometimes prayer is an intangible, words that roar or whisper symbolically; but during Sukkot, our prayer is a solid little structure, a very real shelter built with our own hands.
ופרוש עלינו סכת שלו
spread over us the shelter of Your peace
The permanent structure for the temporary sukkah we build upstate; the upper beams will be covered with pine branches, creating a roof that will allow us to see the stars, to feel the rain.