Sukkot in Israel: A Feast for the Senses


Celebrating the Sukkot holiday in a Sukkah!

Jews across the globe will begin to dine in their sukkahs tomorrow night, September 20, 2021, the Eve of the Sukkot holiday. Sukkahs are so important that there's even an entire tractate of the Talmud, Masechet Sukkah, is dedicated to the rules of building a sukkah.


A Sukkot primer

There are so many questions regarding sukkahs: How many walls? How high? How short? Can it be on wheels? Can it be made of wood? What about fabric? And if you don't have palm fronds which are a particular favorite for the sukkah "roof", can you use beach grass? What about Indian corn? Can it be on a camel? (yes!). So many questions! Well, Israel is Beautiful is here to give you a quick Sukkot primer and some pictures of the sukkot that we've spotted in Jerusalem and around the country.


What is Sukkot all about?

Unlike other holidays, this holiday has two purposes: (1) to remind us of the temporary dwellings (the sukkot) that the Children of Israel lived in during their 40 years of wandering in the desert and (2) to celebrate the end of the fall harvest season. As the holiday lasts for seven nights, we spend those days and nights in the sukkah; some of us eat all our meals there and some actually sleep in their sukkah through the entire holiday! Along with Shavuot and Passover, it is also a harvest festival when, during the times of the First and Second Temples, Jews from across the country would come to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices.


Is Sukkot mentioned in the Torah? Yes! In the Torah, it is referred to as Chag HaAsif (holiday of the ingathering or harvest) or as Chag HaSukkot (the holiday of Sukkot). The date for celebration is also ordained as beginning on the 15th day of the 7th month. (Exodus 34 and Leviticus 23)


The Sukkah walls

The sukkah walls can be made of nearly any kind of material (!) from sheets to plywood and the ceiling is usually lightly covered with either bamboo rods or palm fronds that allow in enough light to see the stars at night.



The Four Species (the Arba Minim)

What are the Four Species (the Arba Minim) and how are they connected to the Sukkot holiday? It is important to remember that Sukkot is a harvest holiday and so you know that the Torah will mention the trees. In Leviticus 23:40, we are told to take a citron (etrog), an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches and willow branches. Beautiful descriptions are written about each of these species in the Bible, which is one of the reasons they are brought together to celebrate the holiday. There is also a special prayer we recite every day when we hold this 'bouquet' of species in our hands.


What about decorating the sukkot?

This is a joyous holiday, meant to be a feast for all our senses and so when it comes to decorating the sukkah - it can be decorated any way you wish! You can go crazy and paint pictures on the walls, make your own flowers to tape on the walls, string popcorn, hang paper chains, hang lighting decorations and cut outs. Since we must be able to see the sky through the branches that cover our sukkahs, the sky is literally the limit! Many cities even hold The Most Beautiful Sukkot in the City contests!


And what about special foods and treats during the Sukkot?

As with every Jewish festival and holiday - meals and food is a big part of the festivities. There are no truly unique foods served, anything and everything goes. Since fall is upon us, Israel is Beautiful has decided to include a fall-inspired Sukkot recipe from the star of Jewish cooking, Jamie Geller. Enjoy her recipe for spaghetti squash Arrabiata right here. https://jamiegeller.com/recipes/spaghetti-squash-arrabiata/


So what makes Sukkot so special in Israel?

Well, since many people are on vacation from work and schools are closed, the country is filled with festivals, in-door and out-door events, all the national parks have special activities planned for young and old alike and a general holiday feeling is in the air!


Here are just a few of the festivities planned in 2021:

From the story-telling festival in Tel Aviv https://www.touristisrael.com/international-storytelling-festival/11523/ to climbing the walls in Jerusalem's Old City https://www.funinjerusalem.com/rappelling/ to the outrageously fun sukkah exhibition in Neot Kedumim https://www.neot-kedumim.org.il/index-jewish-holidays/sukkot-exhibit/, there is something for everyone. And, it's still warm enough to go for a dip in the Mediterranean!


So, wherever you are this Sukkot holiday, we hope you enjoy it with family and friends.


Chag Sameach from all of us at Israel is Beautiful!

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