Sukkot in Israel is high season for tourism, as visitors from around the world arrive in the Jewish state to enjoy the plethora of cultural and religious festivities surrounding this biblically mandated festival. It is considered one of the happiest times of the year. JNS.org details some of the top events taking place in Israel during Sukkot 2017.
At Sukkot, Israeli farmers say Jewish law, tradition, love keeps them working the land.
Each year in central Israel, Hagai Kirshenbaum personally oversees the export of thousands of etrog fruits. But not this year. This fall marks the culmination of the Jewish shmita (sabbatical) year, which began on Rosh Hashanah in September 2014 and corresponds to the Hebrew calendar year 5775. Though Kirshenbaum’s orchards produced just as many of the yellow citron fruits that Jews around the world will use this holiday season for Sukkot, he projects he will sell only about two-thirds of his usual crop. On average, Israeli farmers export 350,000 etrogim to the U.S. each fall holiday season—but only about 50 percent of that amount on the tail of a shmita year, according to the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture.
There is something special and ironic about seeing the iconic and illustrious yellow etrog growing in the frozen tundra of America’s Mid-Atlantic region during the winter. It seems an impossibility, but Darrell Zaslow of Upper Park Heights, Md., has made it reality. Nestled in greenhouses throughout the greater Baltimore region hundreds of etrog trees with kosher etrogim. The project, which began 20 years ago as an experiment, has blossomed into a hands-on lesson in Jewish law for thousands of visitors each year.
Many observant Jews own a sukkah that they put up every year for the weeklong fall holiday of Sukkot. Renting the temporary structure is a lesser-known option than owning, but is it a growing trend? “We were the first ones to rent sukkahs,” Evan Litton—father of Steven and Jonathan Litton, who run a 15-year-old family business called “Build My Sukkah”—told JNS.org. “We were the innovators in that field. There is a small niche market. Whether it is a real trend or not, I’m not sure, but for us, there is small growth every year.”
In the office or the hospital right after morning minyan and working extended hours, radiation oncologist Jay Robinow has saved hundreds of lives. That’s his day job. Late into the night, Robinow has also saved hundreds of lives, but spiritually rather than physically. Since 2007, he has built and/or expanded more than 150 sukkot for people across the state of Kansas—and profit isn’t the motive of the venture. “Let’s just say this would not be a good case study for the Harvard business school,” Robinow tells JNS.org. “It’s definitely a money-losing business.”
A new message of the sukkah emerges in the light of expanding world terrorism, marked by events such as the tragic destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City. Every house, no matter how solid, becomes a mere sukkah exposed to the storms of human evil. Life is ephemeral and yet every moment becomes precious. Accumulating material wealth loses its point, but whatever moments of meaning we experience are a mark of divine grace, writes Noam Zion, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
Did Sukkot help shape America’s Thanksgiving? According to one of the foremost experts on American Judaism, Dr. Jonathan Sarna, the biblical holiday did not exactly guide the Puritans’ thinking during colonial times, but they were generally influenced by the idea of thanking God for their bounty. “The Puritans did not believe in fixed holidays,” Sarna told JNS.org. “If it was a good season, they would announce a thanksgiving, but it’s not like the Jewish holiday which occurs on the 15th of the month of Tishrei (Sukkot). They did not believe in that. So in that respect it’s different.”
Another High Holidays season is upon us, which means Sukkot is right around the corner. In no time you’ll be ordering your annual bouquet of palm fronds, citrons, myrtle, and willows—the famous Four Species. Given the state of the economy these days, it’s painful to buy anything that you can only use once. Then why not stretch the value of your lulav and etrog this year with a little creative repurposing post-festival? After they can be shaken and blessed no more, try these suggestions presented by JNS.org to get the most out of your Sukkot bundle.
The Sukkah City exhibition in September 2010, much like the temporary dwellings that it showcased, came and went. But a new documentary might make its legacy more permanent. Director Jason Hutt’s “Sukkah City” chronicles the event in phases, including the “jury” debate on more than 600 creative sukkah designs, construction of the 12 winning designs, and a two-day exhibition in New York City’s Union Square. “The film is not just about the holiday of Sukkot, it’s not simply about the sukkah,” Hutt tells JNS.org. “It’s also about how we as Jews continue to find meaning in ancient tradition, and how Judaism is what seems like an endless desk for interpretation and reinterpretation.”
While Sukkot is not associated with specific foods or dishes in the same way as Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah or Passover are, vegetarian (or, at least, vegetable-based) dishes can still be enjoyed in the humble, makeshift setting of a sukkah, embracing this holiday as a celebration of the garden and of the spirit of impermanence and delicious relinquishment. Mollie Katzen, one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all-time, presents two squash-based dishes for Sukkot: zucchini-ricotta cloud cakes, as well as black-eyed pea, squash, and shiitake stew.