After the solemnity and introspection of the High Holy Days, Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, is always a treat. Like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, I look forward to Sukkot every year because this holiday, unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is an unaltered celebration. After the Exodus from Egypt, the ancient Jews traveled the wilderness for forty years before reaching the land of Israel. They lived in small huts called “sukkot” during this time. The holiday of Sukkot commemorates those temporary dwellings: Orthodox Jewish families build a small hut, or Sukkah, outside the house where they eat all meals for the seven days of the holiday. Many Orthodox Jews also sleep outdoors in the Sukkah. A typical Sukkah would look something like this:
The holiday of Sukkot is also called “Chag ha-Asif,” or the festival of the harvest. It is a festival of thanksgiving for the bounty that was just harvested in time for winter. As a child I always enjoyed helping my father build our Sukkah on the back porch, and decorating it with posters, flags, and ceiling decorations suspended from the bamboo poles that made up our s’chach (the roof of the sukkah, which must be made from some form of plant).
I love to visit other people’s sukkahs because no two sukkahs are exactly alike. Every family builds and decorates theirs in their own unique style. The requirements to build a sukkah are pretty simple, according to Wikipedia: “A sukkah design must be a temporary structure. The roof must be made of non-edible plant material. The roofing must be thick enough to shade those sitting inside in daytime, and thin enough so that stars are visible through the roof at night. The walls must be at least 10 handsbreadths tall but can be made of any material. Did you know that the body of a dead whale can serve as a wall?  The sukkah can also be built atop a live camel.”
Fortunately, these days we do not need to use dead whales for walls, but I came across some pretty interesting sukkah designs when I did a quick Google image search. In the fall of 2010, an architectural design competition called Sukkah City was held in partnership with the Union Square Partnership for New York City’s Union Square Park. All entrants can be seen here on Sukkah City’s website. The winning designs were constructed at Brooklyn’s Gowanus Studio Space, and set up in Union Square Park for the duration of the holiday. Below are some of the more eye-catching designs.
(All images from http://www.sukkahcity.com)
For more information on the holiday, take a look at the Encyclopedia Judaica page here.
Or check out these titles in our collection:
- The Sukkot and Simhat Torah anthology by Philip Goodman
- A treasury of Succos prayers : excerpted from … the complete ArtScroll siddur, by Nosson Scherman
- The lulav and esrog handbook : the laws of the four species, by Hadar Margolin ; translated by Dovid Oratz
- Succos: its significance, laws, and prayers: a presentation anthologized from Talmudic and traditional sources, laws by Hersh Goldwurm; background and insights by Meir Zlotowitz; prayers and ritual by Avie Gold; overview by Nosson Scherman
Sukkot begins at sundown on Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 and will end at sundown on Wednesday, October 11th, 2017. Happy holidays!
(Blog post originally posted October 2016)
Contributed by: Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian, Midtown