By Laura Seymour
Sometimes we would like to spread out our fall holidays a bit, yet it is fun to have one follow the next with so many different ways to celebrate and so many life lessons to learn. We have just finished a most solemn day of reflection and we immediately begin to prepare for a really happy week. Each holiday brings new experiences and opportunities to teach our children about their Jewish heritage and strengthen their Jewish identity. Every “Jewish lesson” is, of course, a life lesson — we should not separate our Jewish selves from the “other” part of our lives.
Sukkot — what a great holiday! The excitement of building and living in a little hut is so much fun but the best part is having guests join you each night in your sukkah. The tradition of Ushpizin (guests) is a Kabbalistic practice. We welcome one of the seven leaders each night — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. As they are welcomed to join us, so, too, is G-d’s presence invited. There are many new customs associated with this practice. A modern feminist tradition added women such as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Abigail and Esther. Another fun activity is to talk about whom you would invite and why — it could be anybody, Jewish or non-Jewish, living or dead. Adults and children can participate in this discussion.
For children, Sukkot is the perfect opportunity to talk about the value of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). With our children, it is important to talk about how to be a good host and how to be a good guest. It is important to be very specific and to remember the age of the child. Sharing toys with your guest is a tough thing to do when you are little. In addition, today many families see the message of the fragile sukkah as a reminder of people who are homeless. It is a time to give food and clothing to shelters and to remember how fortunate we are.
These are just a few of the possibilities for Sukkot and you have lots of days to do it all. Even if your family does not build a sukkah (yet!), get into the spirit and enjoy this wonderful holiday! And you can start now: 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 Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.