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High Holiday Highlights: Part 4

10/11/2017 08:09:31 AM


October 10, 2017
By Cantor David Frommer & Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

The festivities of Sukkot are often seen as a much-needed tonic after the gravity of Yom Kippur. Many of the Yom Kippur rituals like fasting and wearing white are representative of death, and are meant to imbue us with a sense of urgency in our process of cheshbon hanefesh, spiritual accounting, and t’shuva, returning to a better path for the new year. The rituals of Sukkot, by contrast, remind us of the blessings of life. We acknowledge the food-providing importance of rain, through shaking the lulav and the etrog, and we share the bounty of our harvests through ushpizin, inviting guests to share food and company inside the sukkah.

And yet, while Sukkot certainly encourages us to embrace life, this eight-day holiday is also meant to remind us of life’s fragility. The schach, the leaves or fronds that comprise the sukkah’s roof, as well as the fruits that we hang inside as decorations, decay over the course of time, reminding us of the impermanence of all living things. A sukkah’s permeable roof and flimsy walls provide some minimal shelter but also leave us exposed to rain and cold, to better appreciate the homes we have, and the plight of those who do not. Throughout the week, as is traditional on Sukkot, we have been studying the Book of Kohelet, also known as Ecclesiastes, with its poetic reminders that life can sometimes feel like mist—something which we can't quite grasp and certainly, can't hold firmly.

In the last few days, our entire community has been devastated by the fires raging in eight counties to our north that have claimed everything from individual homes of families in our congregation to communal Jewish institutions like the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman. The lessons of Sukkot at this time have seemed painfully relevant. We cannot control nature, and we cannot answer why misfortune befalls some and not others, but we can be grateful for the lives we still have, and we can rally as a community, supporting each other in the face of hardship. To those in our community who have suffered difficult losses, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Through our Sukkot programming during the past week, we have sought to experience every aspect of this multifaceted holiday. We explored contemporary architectural interpretations of sukkah construction in our screening of the documentary Sukkah City and celebrated time together with congregants of all ages in the sukkah at Cantor David’s home. Most importantly, however, and thanks to our social action committee, we had a chance to learn about the immigration journey of one young Dreamer, a local woman who came to the U.S. as a child with her mother, in search of a better life. The program represented the value of welcoming our neighbors and strangers to dwell with us in a sukkah—and to recognize that we are all wanderers who share the same dreams for ourselves and our loved ones.  

Finally, as Sukkot draws to a close, we conclude our holiday marathon with the most spirited holiday of all, Simchat Torah. We celebrate our Torah, and affirm its timelessness as a sacred text in every year, by reading the very end of Deuteronomy and beginning immediately again with the story of Creation’s famous opening lines: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Join us later today, Wednesday, October 11, at 7 pm, for a breathtaking look at the Creation story—with a view into the universe. Rabbi Graf will share pictures from Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, high up in the Chilean Andes and discuss Jewish texts relating to her photos. RSVP here  Then, on Friday, at our 6 pm Shabbat service, we will unscroll the Torah around the sanctuary, creating a circle of parchment that shows there is no end to our study.  As we link the very last word to the very first, the last letter of the Torah-- lamed-- and the first-- bet-- are combined to create a new word-- lev-- meaning, heart. The Torah is at the center of our community. It is our beating heart. We’ll have a chance to look at the Torah’s beautiful calligraphy up close and take a “tour” of its most exciting moments like the parting of the Red Sea and the final song Moses sings before the Israelites enter the Promised Land. Simchat Torah is fun for all ages. Don’t miss this service—it’ll be a whole year before we unscroll the Torah again!

May we all enjoy a year of study and safety—Chag Sameach!!

Sat, March 17 2018 1 Nisan 5778