I don’t know how many readers you have in the southern hemisphere, but it might interest those in the north to be reminded that it’s actually winter here — cold (in Melbourne terms), blowy and dark early.
One of the quirks of living in California is that the climate and the seasons match that of Israel pretty closely. That’s very handy for us, because the Jewish calendar is rooted in the seasons of the Land of Israel. I am prone to forget that for most of the world, it isn’t so tidy.
For instance, Jews worldwide begin praying for rain on Shemini Atzeret, the day after the close of Sukkot. In both Israel and California, that day falls at about the earliest date one might reasonably expect some rain. Therefore the weather is perfect for eating and sleeping in the sukkah: not too hot, not too cold, and certainly not too wet. However, if one is celebrating in Minnesota or in Sweden, the sukkah is apt to be downright soggy and cold, because autumn had already arrived weeks before.
The same goes for Passover: it’s a spring holiday, hence the parsley and the egg on the seder plate. However, the 14th of Nisan may be a bit early for spring in some northern climes. In the southern hemisphere, Jews sit around the seder table in the fall.
So why not simply attune the holidays to the local climate? Long ago, when Jews were forced into Diaspora, outside the Land of Israel, we decided to keep our calendars aligned with that of our homeland. So Jews in Spain, Jews in South America, Jews in Australia, and Jews in Finland keep the same calendar, no matter what the weather is doing in their local neighborhoods. Just as we face towards Jerusalem for prayer, we align the Jewish year with that of the Land of Israel, because it is, and always has been, home.
So, readers: if your climate or seasons are radically different from that of Israel, how does it affect your observance of the calendar? If you have celebrated the Jewish Year in the far North or south of the equator, I hope to hear from you.
Av (ahv) is the eleventh month of the Hebrew year.
It’s often mentioned as the “unluckiest” or “saddest” month of the year, based on a mention in the Talmud in Taanit 19a: “When we enter Av, our joy is diminished.”
Av has a number of sad anniversaries in it. Foremost of those is the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, on which we remember the destruction of both the first and second Temples, as well as the Expulsion from Spain in 1492. These were the greatest disasters in Jewish history before the 20th century.
Av is also a hot, dry time in the Land of Israel, when water is even more precious than usual and when the sun beats down even in the relatively cooler places like Jerusalem and Sefat.
Rosh Chodesh Av (the 1st of Av) began July 27 at sundown in 2014.
One common feeling at this point in the fall cycle of holidays is to be really sick of sitting in synagogue. Yep, me too.
The good news is that the next holiday isn’t primarily a synagogue holiday. Sukkot is celebrated in the YARD.
Or on the balcony.
Or on the roof.
You can celebrate Sukkot anywhere you can build a temporary shelter.
Or — to keep your first round of Sukkot very simple – anywhere you can put a few lawn chairs and a card table. Or a blanket on the grass.
Yes, it’s nice to have a sukkah. And if you have any connection at all to a Jewish organization, you can go sit in their sukkah, but if you want to get at the heart of the holiday, call up some friends and take them with you. Or go to the park.
This holiday is all about appreciating nature and the harvest. Yes, food. Eaten outdoors. With friends. Or strangers soon to be friends.
Maybe someone you met at synagogue, who could also use a little outdoors time now.
The beauty of Sukkot is that whether you live in an apartment or a mansion, you celebrate it in a temporary shelter outdoors. If you don’t have a yard, take a picnic to the park. If you don’t have a sukkah (yet) the lawn chairs I mentioned above are fine. Or a beach umbrella. Just grab your stuff, pack some food, call a friend, and GO. You’ll figure it out.
The heart of Sukkot is hospitality and enjoyment, and a recognition that most of the stuff we build in this world is temporary, anyhow.
Sukkot starts on the evening of Wednesday, Sept 18. But don’t stress – it goes on for a week. There will be time.
Sukkot is the kick-back Jewish holiday. We’ve mended our relationships, now we get to enjoy them. No hurry, no worry, just share some food and enjoy the season.
I’ll keep posting about the Jewishy stuff, the sukkah, the lulav, the history — that’s all interesting. But remember, the heart of this holiday is hospitality.
This post is part of an ongoing series “Especially for Beginners” in which I will try to give simple explanations for words and concepts in Jewish life. There is always a lot more to learn than in these little posts. If you want more, follow the links. To see what other topics I have covered in this series, click “Especially for Beginners” in the Category cloud on the right side of your screen.
Things to know about the Days of Awe:
The Days of Awe are the ten days from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The Hebrew for the Days of Awe is Yamim Noraim [yah-MEEM no-rah-EEM].
The Days of Awe are a time for concentration on teshuvah [turning, repentance], for mending relationships and adjusting the trajectory of our lives.
Many Jews approach others during the Days of Awe to apologize for misdeeds, slights, and misunderstandings in the previous year.
The teshuvah of the Days of Awe should be not only personal, but communal. Jewish groups, and the Jewish People as a whole confess their wrongdoings and make changes.
Sometimes the Days of Awe are referred to as the Days of Repentance.
The Shabbat that falls during the Days of Awe is called Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance.
Synagogue services during the Days of Awe are unusual. They have their own music, and they are frequently much longer. They are not typical of services the rest of the year. Hence this is not a good time to “shul-shop” [look for a synagogue.] During services, someone may sound the shofar, the ram’s horn.
Synagogues often charge or sell tickets for the most crowded services, but most larger communities have services that are free or low-cost. Call a local synagogue or Federation to find out about your options, and do so well ahead of time (a month ahead is about right.)
The simplest greeting for the Days of Awe is “Shanah Tovah!” [sha-NAH toe-VAH]. It means (roughly) “Happy New Year!”
How can a beginner participate in the Days of Awe?
Attend services. If you cannot find a free service and do not want to pay, know that many services do not charge for some of the less-attended services: Selichot, Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur afternoon services. Shabbat services (other than Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur) are open to visitors as they are all year long.