Editorial: The booth shall set you free

It’s time for Jews the world over to celebrate Sukkot, one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar. During the weeklong festival, Jews construct and dwell in a sukkah, or open-air booth, reminding us of our 40-year sojourn in the desert way back when.

Sukkot begins at sundown Monday, Oct. 17.

It’s the Jewish equivalent of a tailgate party, when friends and family gather in the back yard, pull up the old recliner and gaze up at the dappled starlight through a roof of palm fronds.

Those fronds are important. We are commanded to construct the sukkah so that it is open to the elements, enough to see the nighttime stars through the roof.

The rickety nature of the sukkah reminds us of just how fragile are the works of humankind. The horrific news out of Pakistan’s rubble-strewn earthquake zone this past week more than proves the point.

Despite such fragility, or perhaps because of it, on Sukkot we Jews can seize yet another opportunity to help others. As a community, we rarely blow a chance to do a little more repairing of the world.

We see a good example of that at Congregation Emanu-El, which has organized its Hebrew school students to decorate their synagogue sukkah with gloves, scarves and other cold weather gear.

The kids will hang the items on the walls, and later on donate them to charitable organizations that clothe the poor. It certainly says something about the holiday, the congregants of Emanu-El and the Jewish people in general that they would find such a creative way to help others.

In other Sukkot news, we learned this week that most of the world’s lulav supply comes from Egypt and Jordan (the lulav is the bouquet made of four species that symbolize the bounty of nature, also celebrated on Sukkot). Perhaps this could be one more tiny springboard for cooperation and dialogue between Arab and Jew.

As with every Jewish holiday, Sukkot brings a measure of comfort, routine and continuity. This one especially so because we celebrate it outside as the nights grow chillier even as our spirits grow warmer.

Shortly after Sukkot, our High Holy Day season draws to a close, right after we do a little high stepping with our Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah. Then, we hit the rewind button and start our Torah readings over with the word “B’reshit,” or “In the beginning.”

We Jews are all about new beginnings, always looking forward. May you and your family have a joyous Sukkot and Simchat Torah this year. Chag Sameach.