Friday, October 9, 2009

Culture in Action 2: The Sukka-Mobile

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot is currently underway. I got to witness two elements of the holiday firsthand when outside of my building at work, a pickup truck pulled up and it was appropriately dressed for the holiday—complete with music, branches, a fruit, and of course, a sukkah!

Image: A mobile sukkah.

Sukkot is a joyful harvest festival lasting seven days during which Jewish people remember the 40 year period their ancestors wandered in the desert. Part of the remembering involves the building of a sukkah, or temporary dwelling, and "reliving" the experiences of their ancestors. There are guidelines to building the sukkah:
  • It must have 2.5 walls.
  • The roof must be positioned so that some or all of it is open to the sky.
  • The material for the roof must also be something that came from the earth, such as palm leaves, bamboo, sticks, wood, and pine branches.
The sukkah isn't for simply for show—to properly mark the holiday, Jewish people must "dwell" in it. Some accomplish this by having a meal in the sukkah during one of the feast days. (You can also purchase sukkah kits or pre-made sukkahs.)

Another component of Sukkot is the observance of The Four Species. It involves using four plants to pay tribute to God. To complete this commandment (mitzvah), a citron (etrog) is held in the left hand and a lulav is held in the right. The lulav is a "bundle" of plants consisting of a palm branch, two willow branches, and three myrtle branches. A very specific rite follows during which a prayer is said and the items are presented in specific ways in six directions (north, south, east, west, up, and down) signifying that God is all around.

The owners of the mobile sukkah were trying to give all persons of Jewish faith the opportunity to fulfill the sukkah requirement of Sukkot. They were warm and friendly, and eager to talk about their tradition. In New York, you never know when or where you'll encounter Culture in Action!

Image: Resting after demonstrating the rite of The Four Species.

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