For Jews in Israel, there is probably no better time to reflect on one’s place in nature and the health of the environment than during Sukkot, the Festival of Booths or the Jewish harvest festival.
When I lived in Jerusalem, I could see the small make-shift sukkahs (huts) erected everywhere outside my window – each one has at least three walls made from wooden clapboard or cloth with a simple roof made from plant cuttings (skakh).
Here in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, the effect of the holiday is less profound, because half of the population won’t be building a sukkah, but I am hoping to get a chance to sleep in ours to remember Sinai – physically and metaphorically.
Integral in the building of a sukkah is that it must have an uninterrupted view to the sky and stars. The holidays’s meals are to be eaten in the hut and some of the more hardcore types sleep in it as well.
There is a host of elaborate customs during Sukkoth which involve waving plants and making blessings on a strange aromatic citrus fruit, the etrog, as well as a mitzvah (commandment) for people to travel and explore the land.
What I like most of all about Sukkoth, is that it is a leveler: Rich or poor, young or old, it is a time when people cast aside their worldly possessions and take life’s speed down a notch or two inside their own little hut. It is also about living among nature, not as a conqueror but as an equal to other creatures.
There are different interpretations about the spiritual meaning behind Sukkot – and one I like is that it teaches that existence is fleeting and momentary.
We think that a little bit of reflection on the environment can go a long way around this time as one sits in the hut listening to the nature outside. Even if it is urban nature.
And if you build a sukkah and are not storing the skakh for next year, don’t forget to compost it (James’ has written a great little starter guide). We also hear that etrog makes a fabulous jam. Jack gives us the etrog jam recipe here. But make sure you do it after the holiday, not during or before.
There are a whole pile of green events taking place in Israel this Sukkot. Read Karen’s post on what is happening at Luna Park, with Greenpeace and at Junktion Studio.