For a major holiday, Sukkot sneaks up on us. Less than a week after the grandeur and majestic pomp of the Days of Awe, we find ourselves doing construction work and pretty much living under branches and within the fluttering sukkah walls in our backyards and porches. From our Rosh HaShanah-Yom Kippur finery, we’re now dressed, as often as not, in coats and sweaters, swatting bees and sensing the change of seasons.
If the first half of Tishrei is for the austere, highly choreographed High Holy Days, the second half of the month has a more low-down, casual feel, with its sukkah-hopping and invited guests for meals, culminating in the chaotic dancing, shmoozing and candy-hustling of Simchat Torah, just eight days away.
A walk through Union Square this past week revealed, smack in the middle of Manhattan, the 12 finalists of an international sukkah design contest (sponsored by the hip Jewish cultural group, Reboot) that was avant-garde, creative and joyously freewheeling. It reminded us that few things prove that we are created in the image of God more than flights of spiritual imagination — our own creation of art and holiness from the “unformed and void.”
One regret of Sukkot is that its place on the calendar precludes the scrutiny, study and planning that accompany its eight-day cousins, Passover and Chanukah. At Passover time, a city agency has inspectors visiting grocers and vendors, looking out for cases of price gouging for matzah and food for the seder. For Sukkot, no one seems to monitor the voodoo economics of how lulavs and etrogs are priced, let alone other seasonal costs. One might hope that the synagogues, schools and organizations that are in league with lulav-etrog dealers might also see themselves in league with the Jewish consumer.
For a holiday that is so entwined with the idea of fragility, we should be more empathetic toward those among us already overwhelmed with the high cost of being Jewish.
Before much longer, after a week outdoors, we’ll be praying for rain — literally — and hunkering indoors for the winter. The leaves will be changing, and our lives will too, as another new year presents itself.