BY EDEN FARBER / AJT //
A friend of mine told me this story last year around Sukkot.
She and her sister were driving in my neighborhood on their way to the library. They aren’t Jewish and her sister was puzzled to see all the little huts on front lawns up and down the streets in the area.
“What on earth is going on,” the sister asked. My friend, knowing me and a bit about the crazy customs of Judaism, turned to her sibling and said, “Oh, please, the hut is called a Sukkah.”
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I found it interesting how excited my friend was when she told me this story and then went on to explain all the laws of the holiday that she remembered. So it turns out that by spending time with me, my friend got the inside scoop into what many in our area consider the work of their crazy neighbors.
Truth to tell, one of my favorite things about Sukkot is how strange we Jews seem at times. Let’s face it, it is sort of weird shaking palm branches and lemon-like fruit specimens; walking around in circles banging leaves on the ground (a ritual on the last days of the holiday, Hoshana Rabba); and inviting over guests for nice meals all served in a do-it-yourself made hut on our front yards.
As I mentioned earlier, at least for me, Sukkot simply is one of the best holidays because of the weird vibe it creates.
I’d say the appeal is deeper than just the outward absurdity. But, in fact, there’s something really special about being identifiably Jewish. Even when the custom is strange and uncomfortable – nay, especially when the custom is strange and uncomfortable – it’s something we do together as a community.
Some people have their own customs and ways to be identifiably Jewish. For instance, some Jews dress in a very modest fashion, others where tzitzit (four cornered garments with ritual tassels) or kippot.
Others keep it all very discreet – yet powerful – wearing jewelry that features Stars of David. However, for many in the Jewish community – and that would include me – there’s nothing about the way I dress that particularly screams Jewish.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t feel Jewish. I certainly feel Jewish wherever I am, and it’s a part of my identity that informs my life and the choices I make. Yet, there’s a difference between Jewish observance that is inward and outward displays.
And I’m left wondering who notices and what’s it all for?
That’s what makes Sukkot a very strange and wonderful holiday.
There’s a lot to the holiday; it’s about connecting to G-d through nature and offers all of us a powerful spiritual message. And then there are all the odd rituals. The oddest, perhaps, is also the most public.
During Sukkot, we aren’t quietly observing a tradition. We are clanking rods and tossing around bamboo in our front yards. Even if you aren’t building a Sukkah, just being in one for a period of time feels as odd as it looks. With plastic fruit hanging from the ceiling and pictures of Biblical characters on the walls, a Sukkah has a very distinct feel to it – distinctly out of place!
But, I’d argue, it’s that out of place feeling that brings us together. Something that we as a people understand, wherever we come from and wherever we’re going, we see a Sukkah and we get that familial connection to one another.
Here’s the bottom line: We Jews are a community, in hard times and when we’re celebrating; on days when we blend in with the rest of the world and on holidays when we stick out like an etrog on an apple farm.
So I say let’s not just embrace what makes us different, let’s revel in all the odd things that make us special.
About the writer
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.