Setting Up the Sukkah

Image: Linda Burnett and Jessica Haymes take a break in the Sukkah after set-up.

Our sukkah isn’t a classical sukkah, but I love it. It’s made from a pergola with grape vines trained over. The vines form a nice, holey roof through which to see stars. The open walls are not exactly kosher, but the location is so windy that walls are a problem. And why shut out that view?

I cover the floor and table with rugs from Jerusalem.  Chairs have cushions to be extra-comfy. And this photo was taken from a low sofa that I can drag into the sukkah for a nap or a night’s sleep!

Prayer flags are this year’s new addition. They flap in the breeze and add color.

What’s your sukkah like?

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The Festival We Forgot?!

Image:  Photo of sukkot on a Jerusalem street and apartment balcony. Photo by Yoninah.

(13) On the second day, the heads of the clans of all the people and the priests and Levites gathered to Ezra the scribe to study the words of the Teaching. (14)They found written in the Teaching, that the Eternal had commanded Moses, that the Israelite should dwell in booths during the festival of the seventh month, (15) and that they must announce and proclaim throughout all their towns and Jerusalem as follows: “Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms, and [other] leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” (16) So the people went went out and brought them, and made themselves booths on their roofs, in their courtyard, in the courtyards of the House of God, in the square of the water gate, and in the square of the gate of Ephraim. (17) The whole community that returned from captivity made booths, and dwelt in the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day, Israelites had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. (18) He read from the scroll of the Teaching of God each day, from first to the last day. The celebrated the festival seven days, and there was a solemn gathering on the eighth, as prescribed. – Nehemiah 8:13-18

 

What an amazing passage from the Book of Nehemiah! This action takes place in Jerusalem, after the Jews have returned from exile in Babylon. According to this, after the Israelites entered the land in the time of Joshua, they forgot to build the booths we call Sukkot.

Now, when they have RE-entered the Land, Ezra commands them to revive the practice, which we keep until this very day.

Have you ever built a sukkah, or had the opportunity to eat or sleep in one? Will you build a sukkah this year?

Are there ancient Jewish practices you’d like to revive? Which ones, and why?

What to Wear on Yom Kippur?

Image: Air Force Captain Rabbi Gary Davidson is wearing a kittel and puts on a tallit to lead Yom Kippur services for Air Force personnel stationed in South East Asia. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Central Command)

(If it’s not Yom Kippur, see my other article What to Wear to Synagogue?)

I noticed that the third most popular article on this blog on Rosh Hashanah was What to Wear to Synagogue. I suspect there may also be folks who wonder what to wear on Yom Kippur – or who get to synagogue and worry that they have worn the wrong thing.

Yom Kippur is a complicated day for clothing choices for Jews, because there is a wide variation of practice. For a visitor to an unfamiliar synagogue, you are unlikely to go far wrong with clean, tidy business attire. 

However, what you will see upon arrival at the synagogue may cover quite a range. Here are some choices you may encounter at a Yom Kippur service:

  1. Many people will wear “nice” business attire.
  2. Some may choose to wear canvas or plastic shoes, since traditionally there is a prohibition of wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur.
  3. Some may choose to wear a white garment that looks a bit like a modest lightweight bathrobe or a lab coat. It’s called a kittel, and it has multiple connotations. Bridegrooms may wear a kittel for weddings. A kittel is part of the tachrichim, the traditional burial shroud. It conveys a sense of both purity and mourning.
  4. Some may choose to observe the prohibition against “anointing” on Yom Kippur. Interpretations of this practice vary: women may refrain from wearing cosmetics, men may forgo scented products. Some individuals interpret it as including deodorant.
  5. Washing for pleasure is forbidden during Yom Kippur, but washing for hygiene is permitted. Individuals decide on precisely where to draw those lines themselves. You may see someone who appears to be having a “bad hair day” because they still have “bed head.”

Why would civilized people show up for a major religious observance with such grooming? This has to do with the five “afflictions” of Yom Kippur. Traditionally, on Yom Kippur Jews abstain from:

  1. Food and drink
  2. sex
  3. washing for pleasure
  4. anointing
  5. wearing leather shoes

In my own experience as an American Reform Jew, I’ve seen a few people groom themselves differently for Yom Kippur, and some people wear canvas shoes. A much smaller number wear a kittel. Most people wear tidy, clean clothing but nothing unusual.

The last thing that’s different about clothing for Yom Kippur is that you will see a number of people in synagogue wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, at the evening Kol Nidre service. At no other time does the Jew in the pew wear a tallit at night.

In most Orthodox synagogues, the tallit and kittel are seen as males-only attire. I say “most” because even in Orthodoxy, customs vary from shul to shul. Women dress as they do for any other service at that synagogue. How dressy they will be depends on the culture of that particular community. In general, women at an Orthodox shul wear skirts, not slacks.

For a visitor in any synagogue, the same rule applies as for other services: you are likely to fit right in wearing business attire. The important thing is that one be clean, tidy and modest. You want to dress in a way that will allow you and those around you to pay attention to prayer and the service, because after all, that’s the point!

Shana Tova u’Metukah!

Image: The small daughter of two rabbis holds a shofar. (Photo: R. Julie Pelc Adler.)

Shana tova u’metukah means “A good and sweet year.” It is a traditional greeting for the Jewish New Year, or Rosh HaShanah. It is also my wish for you, gracious readers.

ויקרא כ״ג:כ״ג-כ״ה

(כג) וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. (כד) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ. (כה) כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַה’.

(23) And the Eternal spoke unto Moses, saying: (24) Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. (25) Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the Eternal. – Leviticus 23:23-25

 

Sweating the Small Stuff

Image: Me, on my scooter with my traveling gear, at the airport in 2014.  (Photo by Linda Burnett)

I’m traveling at the moment, and I’m struck again by the power of small kindnesses.

This has been a particularly pleasant trip, made so by the friendly kindness of several strangers. Little things add up over a long journey; we never know what difference it will make to someone that we hold a door, or smile, or simply pay attention.

I’ve been the recipient of many small kindnesses in the past few days. I’ve done my best to acknowledge all of them and let them know I’m grateful.

I’m staying at a hotel where they seem to take the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) very seriously. In my room, there’s the name of a person on staff I can call if something isn’t properly accessible to me. I called him to ask for a different kind of chair, and got it immediately. The room is nearly perfect, and his attention to getting it right made it MORE than perfect.   I have already written to corporate headquarters about him, because I frequently stay at hotels in this chain, and this is quite extraordinary. I’d like to see it become the norm.

As we prepare our cheshbon hanefesh this month, our accounting of the soul, let’s not forget the small items. How did I make other people feel today?  How did I treat them? How could I do better?

 

 

#BlogElul – Forgive

Image: Two people embracing. (Antonio Guillem /Shutterstock)

After the Israelites reject the Land in the episode of the Spies, God is angry, talking about wiping them all out and starting over with Moses. Moses replies with soothing words, reminding God of the relationship at stake.  God immediately calms and replies:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, סָלַחְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶךָ

And the Eternal said, “I have forgiven, as you asked.” – Numbers 14:20

Moses recognized that the anger God expressed came from hurt. The Israelites were afraid, and rejected the gift of the Land. Moses spoke to God’s hurt, and God forgave.

There are many points to get from this famous story, but this one simple verse is a pithy example of what Jews do during Elul: We ask for forgiveness, and we grant it to others. 

It does not change the fact that one person hurt the other. All it does is create an opportunity to reset the relationship.

I go through the month asking, “Who is angry with me, and why? Do I own any tiny (or not so tiny) part of that anger – did I do anything?” If I can apologize for that tiny part, and ask forgiveness, perhaps it will open up a dialogue in which both sides can be healed. Certainly without this action, nothing will improve.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it is always worth a try.

#BlogElul – See

Image: A blue eye looks through a rectangular hole in paper. (pixabay)

“I see you.”

I recently saw someone type that on Facebook, in response to a post with a list of troubles. “I see you.”

It was a way of expressing attention without passing judgment, without offering advice, without asking questions. “I see you.”

“I see you” doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t even try to fix anything. It just says, “You are not invisible. I am noticing.”

Sometimes we need action in response to our cries. But before there is action, there has to be awareness. There has to be seeing.

Seeing takes time. Seeing takes attention.

When I assume that I know what I’m seeing, I am assuming, not seeing.

When I move to fix something without truly seeing, I may fix the wrong thing.

When I move to judge something without truly seeing, I may misjudge.

When I refuse to see, I refuse the humanity in the other.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who gives us eyes that we may see.