faith: Jewish community wraps up Festival of Sukkot today, moving toward Simchat Torah
Photo by Haran Rashes
Beginning five days after the solemn High Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Festival of Sukkot (also called Festival of Booths) is one of the most joyous celebrations of the year, according to Judaism 101. Today marks the seventh and final day of Sukkot.
Sukkot, often called "Time of Our Joy," is a celebratory season to give thanks for the harvest, as Jews have done since ancient times, explained Rabbi Kim Blumenthal from Ann Arbor's Beth Israel Congregation. It also commemorates the 40-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters.
Jewish people build temporary outdoor shelters called Sukkahs during the festival to represent the impermanence of a temporary dwelling. Sukkahs are often decorated with branches, dried vegetables, children’s artwork and lots of other colorful items, with as much time as possible spent outdoors in the Sukkah.
According to Blumenthal, many families in Ann Arbor build and host parties in Sukkahs around town. "It's an opportunity to appreciate the permanence of our own homes," she said, as well as a chance to connect with nature.Â
Blumenthal noted that she has been more attuned to the fluctuating weather this week, spending more time outside. "It's an opportunity to reallly get back to basics."Â
Beth Israel Congregation, which has one of the largest Sukkahs in Michigan, hosted a dinner for 80-100 people and a variety of activities this week.
On the last evening after Sukkot, the Jewish community pauses in the celebratory cycle for Shemini Atzeret, a time to remember loved ones who have passed in a special memorial service called a Yizkor.
Then Thursday evening, a time of great celebration erupts with Simchat Torah, meaning "Rejoicing in the Torah," to recognize the completion and re-beginning of the annual cycle of readings. "It's very celebratory," Blumenthal said. "We bring out all of our Torah scrolls and dance around the synagogue."
Beth Israel will commemorate Simchat Torah with a special dinner Thursday night and a pancake breakfast on Friday morning.
Pam Stout coordinates Faith and Home & Garden coverage for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.