Sukkot: A Season of Joy by Stephanie Leen

In ancient Israel, when the Temple was still standing, there were three pilgrimage festivals throughout the calendar year where people made their way to Jerusalem to offer annual gifts/tithes: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot, and Sukkot. Sukkot is a fall harvest festival that begins on the 15th of Tishrei, usually in September/October.  

During those times, on Sukkot, communities would build temporary booths near the fields for the week to harvest and store everything for the winter season ahead. Sukkot marked the end of the growing season. 

The building of these temporary booths also connects to the experience of the Israelites who wandered in the desert. In a constant state of movement, they too would build temporary dwelling spaces in which they would eat, sleep, and pray as a community. While this reminds us that permanence is relative, it also reminds us to bring together family and friends for meals and sleepovers in the sukkahs we build. It is a time of joy and celebration: z’man simchateinu. 

The most relevant part of Sukkot, as it relates to the JCC Denver, is that it reminds us that our greatest celebrations are those that take place in the community and connect us to other chapters in Jewish history. This year, come to the JCC terrace where we will shake the lulav* and etrog**. At the end of Sukkot, we pray for rain.  This takes place on the last day of Sukkot, called Shimini Atzeret. 

*lulav: The Jewish “rainstick” made of palm branch, willow, and myrtle branches, is used as part of a ritual shaking that invites rain for an abundant harvest in next year’s growth cycle. Shaking it in every direction symbolizes G-d’s omnipresence.  

**etrog: A “lemon-like” citron that is shaken in conjunction with the lulav to pray for rain in order that the following growing season will produce abundant crops. 

Lulav and etrog together: Combined they represent the human body. The palm branch, which is straight and strong, represents our spine. The willow is almond-shaped like our eyes and the myrtle branch is curved like our lips. The etrog is shaped like our heart.