The fall is a great time to be Jewish — we have so many wonderful holidays! After the introspection of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we get to enjoy special holidays that seem to be designed with kids in mind. Sukkot is a holiday with symbols that children love and are fun for all to experience. Here’s all you need:
There are many laws for building a sukkah but basically you need three or four walls, a roof that must be something that grew from the ground, and you should be able to see the stars at night through the roof. We are commanded to live in the sukkah but usually we just eat there; some sleep in their sukkah. Part of the reason is historical, reminding us of our wandering through the desert with Moses and also how we lived when we made our pilgrimages to the Temple. Today it is an opportunity for us to remember that life is fragile — many use this time to help the homeless who are in temporary dwellings. It is a time to be thankful.
The lulav and etrog
The Torah tells us to gather the four species — lulav (palm branch), hadaseem (myrtle), aravot (willows) and etrog (citron) — and rejoice. We bind the hadaseem and aravot together with the lulav, and shake the lulav and etrog each morning. The story we tell the children is that each part is like part of the body and we use our entire body to remind us that G-d is everywhere.
The ushpizin (guests)
The ushpizin are biblical guests that we welcome into the sukkah. The custom comes from a mystical tradition that our leaders helped our people during their times, so may G-d shelter us today beneath wings of peace. The traditional guests are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. Modern feminists also include Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam and Esther. Another new tradition is to ask your guests who they would invite and what question they would like to ask that person. I have told the children that I would invite Superman and asked them what he would talk about — as you see, everyone is welcome in the sukkah!
Buy and put up a sukkah when your children are young. It is a very special experience for the whole family. But more important, don’t stop putting up your sukkah (or doing other Jewish rituals) when your children are grown — by continuing to do things, we are showing that Judaism grows with us throughout our lives.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.