Another Jewish holiday is happening as I type – this is Sukkot and it is one of my favorite. I say another because it always seems that Jews have so many holidays [like the Chinese] because our holidays are not part of the mainstream calendar here in the United States, which means they seem extra and feel like more. Our New Year begins usually in September not on December 31st.
Growing up Jewish in the United States is to be out of step. This is a Christian nation despite the founding fathers attempts at building a secular one. And to be Sephardim, is to be another step removed, because we are out of step with the European Jews who settled here. In 1492, Spanish Jews were kicked out of their country (Spain) during the Inquisition. It was at the same time that this country was being “discovered.” Our customs were different from European Jews in Spain, and we were dispersed over 500 years ago and went to Africa, the Middle East and South America where through intermarriage and cultural accretion we came to be considered the darker Jews, and frankly sort of swarthy and more primitive Jews by some estimation.
The United States is a country of Ashkenazi Jews – from Europe – and their customs and Yiddish language pervade Jewish thought here, while my culture and language are different. The Sephardim dance and sing and chant differently – our sound is melodious not guttural, our language is Ladino not Yiddish, our customs are earthier and more sensual and our food is rich in spices. Yet, we are considered the stepJews here – the nouveau riche amongst the landed Jewry. And we show it too – often flashing lots of gold and tacky bar mitzvah parties. We’re flashy and trashy, just the way I like it.
But I digress.
It’s Sukkot, which started September 18 and ends September 25, and during this holiday we build a temporary structure outside in our backyards to eat and hang out in and commune with our oneness. It’s one of those remember holidays like most Jewish holidays – one where we are to recall how we lived in temporary structures when we escaped as slaves of Egypt and wandered through the desert for 40 years – moving often.
Sitting outside and having your meals in a sukkah reminds us to be one with nature, to let down the barriers between our neighbors, to let God in. Here in New Orleans, as I walk down my new neighborhood street and see all of the burglar bars on windows and doors, I wish I saw more sukkah shanties and less heavy metal.
I’m not much of a builder but I did have plans to eat outdoors in the backyard during this week, unfortunately the rain has put the kibosh on my intent.
My mind is out there thought – and one night we will catch the loveliness of the holiday and eat al fresco. I love my heritage – Jewish, Sephardic – especially when a holiday’s meaning resonates with me and my spiritual path. It doesn’t happen all of the time, but when it does it’s pure alchemy. I especially love that living in New Orleans during the 2005 Federal Flood helped me to grasp impermanence and to understand the reality of temporary shelter. Sitting outside for Sukkot is a good opportunity to remember that lesson and to embrace the liberation that comes from it.
I don’t know what type of sukkah I would have made, perhaps I’ll just be glad with my patio umbrella and a few candles. A sukkah is a temporary structure that can be made with curtains, palm fronds, wood or whatever is handy – and generally fruit is hung from the rafters as a reminder of the harvest season approaching:
I love these – urban solution to sukkahs: