A repost of an entry I wrote for that marvelous blog Green Phone Booth:
Sukkot is my favorite holiday. For seven to nine days (depending on one's practice), Jews eat and sometimes sleep in a little open hut we build in our backyards. The roof must be made with natural materials such as leaves and branches, and openings must be left in the ceiling so we can see the stars and the light of the moon.
Religiously, Sukkot is a time of remembering when the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness without a permanent home after being freed from slavery. The famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides proposed that we build sukkahs every fall so we will always be reminded of times of misfortune (of being homeless) during our times of good fortune.
Sukkot is also a celebration of the "ingathering" (ie, the harvest) after a season of hard work in the fields. A holiday with roots which predate Judaism, Sukkot is a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving when we celebrate the reaping of the fruits of the season and our ability to share it with our friends and families.
Although the spiritual meanings of Sukkot mean a lot to many Jews, others of us who reject the religious mandates still find deep symbolism in its celebration. It is hard to miss that the times of misfortune are exactly the moments when we can most appreciate our riches. We relax around the table in our sukkah with all our loved ones seated around us and celebrate how much we have to sustain us: not only our full pantries but our full hearts.
* * *
No time seems more appropriate to me to enjoy my own contemporary family's labor in the field. Our own personal "field" is a tiny urban backyard garden which only produces enough to supplement our diet. But tonight, we've made dinner exclusively from what we grew ourselves.
We recently harvested Tiger Eye beans (which we allowed to dry on the vine)...
...and Mandan Bride corn:
My 9yo son and I had a blast today removing the kernels from the corncobs...
...and cranking them through our little grain mill to make cornmeal.
We then made traditional southern-style cornbread in a cast iron skillet.
Homegrown delicato squash (so sweet!) and a mix of greens including turnip and mustard rounded out our meal.
On the side we served pickles canned from our homegrown lemon cucumbers:
The meal ended with cups of steaming tea made from spearmint, lemon verbena, and stevia, all of which we grew ourselves over the summer and dried.
There is something profound about living so simply yet so well. We built our little shelter with our own hands (and a power drill), we ourselves planted the seeds and watered the garden that fed us tonight, and we sang songs with our voices alone. All of this plain homemade evening was glorious. How fortunate we are!
* * *
It is becoming clear what the lessons of the hoe, the apron, and the sukkah are: gratitude for simple things, yes--but also the responsibility to work for tikkun olam (the healing of the world), and, perhaps most importantly, the awareness that we on this planet are all one family.
Sukkot connects us to the world: both the land which feeds us, and the friends who share that nourishment with us in our sukkahs. We sit in our fragile booths, shivering in the chilly evening breeze and hoping it won't rain--yet we rejoice in the abundance of our harvest.
Times may be hard, and they may become harder--but we have enough to celebrate; we have each other.
At the end of our evenings, we carry the china and the candles back into our warm houses and say goodnight to our friends.
But Sukkot is also the moment when we are called to think of--no, to empathize with--those people who have to live all their days exposed to the elements just as we are this week in our festival booths. This year--when so many people have been kicked out of their homes to live in their cars, crash on a friend's couch, or sleep on the streets--this lesson is more important than ever.
Regardless of our religious or cultural practices, Harvest Time is a moment when we must remember how many people--in this country and around the world--do not ever experience abundance. Instead, struggling people are going hungry every night, shivering as the winter approaches, in their own fragile cardboard booths.
Let us reach out our hands.