Sukkot Unveiled: Your Guide to the ‘Jewish Thanksgiving
As the calendar transitions to autumn, Jewish communities around the world prepare for Sukkot, a unique and joyous holiday often referred to as the “Jewish Thanksgiving.” But what exactly is Sukkot, and when does it occur? Let’s unravel the tapestry of this remarkable celebration and answer some common questions.
What Is Sukkot? Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is a week-long Jewish festival that commemorates the biblical journey of the Israelites through the wilderness during the Exodus. The holiday derives its name from the sukkah, a temporary outdoor dwelling constructed by Jewish families. These sukkot serve as a symbol of the makeshift shelters the Israelites used during their desert wanderings.
When Is Sukkot? Sukkot falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, typically occurring in late September or early October on the Gregorian calendar. It begins five days after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and lasts for seven days, with the eighth day being a separate holiday known as Shemini Atzeret.
The ‘Four Species’: One of the most recognizable customs of Sukkot is the use of the “Four Species” (or Arba Minim): the etrog (citron), lulav (palm frond), hadass (myrtle), and aravah (willow). These symbols are waved together during Sukkot prayers to express gratitude for the harvest and the natural world.
Dining in the Sukkah: A central aspect of Sukkot is the practice of eating meals in the sukkah. Families and friends gather in these outdoor structures to enjoy festive meals, symbolizing the reliance on God’s protection and the transient nature of material possessions.
The Ushpizin Tradition: Another meaningful tradition during Sukkot is the welcoming of ushpizin (guests), who are believed to visit the sukkah each night. These spiritual guests represent biblical figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. Welcoming the ushpizin serves as an opportunity for reflection and the embracing of virtues associated with these guests.
Celebrating Nature and Community: Sukkot embodies themes of gratitude, unity, and the appreciation of nature’s bounty. It encourages Jews to come together in joyful celebration, reminding them of the importance of community and the value of simplicity.
As Sukkot approaches, Jewish communities worldwide prepare to build their sukkot, decorate them with colorful fruits and decorations, and engage in meaningful rituals and gatherings. It’s a time to give thanks, embrace traditions, and celebrate the rich tapestry of Jewish culture and history, as well as an opportunity for all to learn from the profound lessons of this “Jewish Thanksgiving.”