Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Story on Sukkot

Skokie Celebrates Harvest Festival of Sukkot
Seven-day festive event follows solemn Yom Kippur holiday for Jews.
By Ted Regencia

Arlene Berke still remembers the Sukkot festivities during her childhood.

As a student at a religious school, she recalls attending evening service on the first night of the seven-day long commemoration of harvest, one of the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar.

"All the students were asked to bring their gayly decorated basket of fruits as an offering," said Berke, president of Temple Judea Mizpah along Niles Center Road in Skokie.

The offerings were then taken to several nursing homes in the Chicago area, and shared with the seniors, Berke said.

"It's a hospitality thing," she said. "You invite people into your sukkah to celebrate with you."

The sukkah is a temporary booth-like structure built outside synagogues and homes of the Jewish faithful. There, they can share meals, recite prayers, even sleep during the weeklong festivity.

The temporary hut, made of light materials and decorated with fruits, paper chains and drawings, symbolizes the 40-year journey of the Jewish people, who wandered in the desert after they fled Egypt on their way to Israel.

It is also required that the sukkah's roof has an opening to allow attendees "to see the stars," Berke explained.

While she never experienced building a sukkah in her home, Berke regularly attends get-together at relatives' homes where they "enjoy the refreshments."

According to Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg of the Ezra-Habonim Congregation at 4500 Dempster St. in Skokie, building the sukkah and spending time in it, is a reminder that there are people around the world who are experiencing "sub-standard" living conditions.

Ginsburg also remembered sleeping under the sukkah at night as a child and now neighborhood children joined him to share the food prepared by elders.

Across Skokie and the North Shore area, Sukkot is widely celebrated. Many families in the Skokie, which has a significant Jewish population, build their hut from various materials.

At the corner of Niles Center Road and Oakton Street in Skokie, the Lubavitch Chabad Congregation has set-up a "Sukkah of Civic Pride" within the village's Martin Krier Plaza.

This year the celebration runs from Sept. 22 to 29.

On Wednesday, Rabbi Amy L. Memis-Foler will read the Erev Simchat Torah at Temple Judea Mizpah. The service marks the end of the cycle of reading of the Jewish holy book. This will be followed by the unrolling of the new Torah cycle the next day.

Special rituals vary, and for the Orthodox congregations, such as the Agudath Jacob Synagogue just off Dempster along East Prairie Road, no work is permitted on the holiday's first two days. No writing or driving or talking on the phone, no checking e-mail or Facebook page.

The celebration concludes Thursday with synagogues staging different events featuring dancing, pot luck lunch or dinner.

Ginsburg recalled that during the ancient times, Sukkot was a time for Jews "to send blessings to all countries around the world."

He said during this year's celebration, he is offering his prayers to all the nations around the world, particularly to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "for a change of heart" and for him to stop "preaching hate."

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