Sukkot is a chilly time of joy

As if on cue, just as we build the sukkah in the backyard, the night air turns chilly and the winds kick up.

No one ever said spending a week in a booth made of sticks and palm fronds was the lap of luxury. But, for those bundled up in blankets, with hot cocoa in hand, Sukkot is one of the most wonderful holidays on the Jewish calendar.

Sukkot this year begins at sundown on Friday, Oct. 6. If you can’t build your own, spend some time in a synagogue or community sukkah.

Sukkot honors the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the Sinai Desert. They were a people on the move, and as with their quick-baked matzah, the Israelites had time to construct only flimsy booths, or “sukkot.”

The holiday is also an agricultural festival marking the traditional harvest time of the ancient world.

Because the sukkah is intended as a temporary shelter, it is usually an open-air dwelling. Those autumn winds do penetrate. The roof should be made of material gathered from the earth, such as fronds, branches, corn stalks or even bamboo shoots. The salient point is: One must be able to look up and see the stars through the roof of the sukkah.

Forgive us for a bit of Jewish self-congratulation, but this is yet another of the many poetic glories found in our tradition.

Think about what it means to look up through the ceiling of your sukkah and see the stars. Think of what this suggests about our impermanence, about our fragile place in the natural world, about our connection with the divine.

Like all Jewish holidays and Shabbat, the rituals of our tradition have evolved to present inexhaustible lessons about life.

Take for example the lulav, Sukkot’s other prime symbol, which is a bundle of four exotic desert plant species, each one of which is said to resemble and represent a part of the human body.

As one recites the lulav blessing and waves the bundle in six directions, we are reminded of God’s presence everywhere in the natural world. Moreover, this activity is supposed to remind us of the procession the Jews made around the Jerusalem Temple of old.

So even in modern day Northern California, with the squeal of MUNI in the background, we can transport ourselves back to Judaism’s seminal ancient days.

And there you have it. Just as the sukkah reminds of us our impermanence as individuals, the waving of the lulav reminds us of our eternal life as a people, from the time of Abraham to the time of the 2006 Oakland A’s (go team!).

We wish our readers and the entire Jewish community a chag sameach and a joyous Sukkot.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.