Preparing for Sukkot

Sukkot is one of three (along with Passover and Shavuot) Biblical pilgrimage holidays.

Wide leopold pilichowski sukkot
Leopold Pilichowski, Sukkot

After the closing supper of Yom Kippur, Jews begin gathering materials to build a shack, in which they will be celebrating the next of autumn holidays: the seven-day holiday of Sukkot. Its name can be translated as Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles. In Poland, it also used to be called Święto Kuczek [the Feast of Sukkah], from Old Polish word „kucza”, meaning a sukkah.

Sukkot is one of three (along with Passover and Shavuot) Biblical pilgrimage holidays during which people were obliged to go on a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, where offerings of that year’s crops and fruit were made. Biblical tradition closely links Sukkot with the exodus from Egypt: „You shall live in booths seven days; (...) in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42–43). According to the Biblical order, Sukkot holiday is to be celebrated for seven days from the 15th to 21st day of the month of Tishri, to commemorate the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and forty years of their wandering in the desert.

The symbolism present in the ceremonies refers to the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The days of Sukkot should also be an opportunity to leave behind the problems of everyday life and achievements of civilisation, which sometimes means returning to the primitive conditions of life, thanks to which you can feel the ground under your feet and see the stars above you. This allows you to spiritually get closer to God and feel His presence in life.

It can be achieved by moving for a week to a shack built outdoors, which can be either a solid structure built of planks or made only from the canvas stretched on a wooden frame. Currently in the cities people living in blocks most often build over their balconies, turning them into temporary shacks. Before the war, houses were sometimes designed so that, thanks to complex constructions, people could raise a fragment of a roof truss and arrange shelter in the attic. The interior is richly decorated with garlands of flowers, grasses, grains and twigs, fruit, clusters of rowan and also carpets, decorative fabrics and drawings.

Characteristic for Sukkot are also special ceremonies held during services in the synagogue. During the recitation of psalms from 113 to 118 praising God, telling about the exodus from Egypt and expressing faith in salvation, people shake the Arba Minim, meaning „four species”. It is a bouquet made of palm leaves (lulav), a willow twig (arava) and myrtle (hadas), which is held in one hand whereas in the other — the etrog, a lemon-like fruit, grown especially for the occasion.

Olga Zienkiewicz

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