A PJ Library Guide for Starting the Jewish New Year
We wanted to share with SNH families the two lesser known holidays that complete the three-week Jewish holiday season that begins with Rosh Hashanah. So, what better place to turn to than PJ Library? A free program for families raising Jewish kids from birth through 12 years old, PJ Library offers books that are a fun, easy way to share Jewish culture and values with your child.
Now, PJ Library has published a beautiful new guide that explores ways for your family to celebrate all facets of the Jewish holiday season. To download the guide or to register to receive PJ Library books, visit pjlibrary.org.
Check out this excerpt on the lesser known High Holy Days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah from the new guide.
Five days after Yom Kippur, the moon grows full. It lights up a special celebration called Sukkot, a harvest festival that lasts for an entire week. Sukkot is known as “the time of our joy.” On Sukkot we celebrate completing the hard work of teshuvah (turning ourselves around). Now we can relax and embrace life’s simple joys.
Sukkot literally means “small huts.” For the week of Sukkot, it is a tradition to build a sukkah (hut) outdoors to relive experiences from the Jewish past. These include the desert encampments of our ancestors fleeing slavery in Egypt, the field tents used by farmers in ancient Israel during the fall harvest, and the tents of pilgrims visiting the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
For seven days, the sukkah becomes our temporary home for eating, relaxing, and even sleeping. We hang fruits and vegetables in the sukkah and are grateful for the plenty in our lives.
It’s customary to shake a lulav and etrog in the sukkah on each morning of Sukkot (but any time of day is fine). The lulav is a cluster of plants: a palm branch, two boughs of willow, and three boughs of myrtle. The etrog is a citron fruit — basically an overgrown lemon. Together the lulav and etrog are called arba minim (ahr-BAH mee-NEEM), which is Hebrew for "the four species."
The lulav and etrog reconnect us to a time 3,000 years ago when most Jews in Israel lived as farmers, and the rhythm of life was tied to the land. Sukkot comes right at the end of the fall harvest. When we shake the lulav and etrog in six directions — forward, right, back, left, up, and down — we create a force field, surrounding us on all sides. We hope to be surrounded by and protected by our many blessings this year.
REJOICE WITH THE TORAH!
The Jewish fall holidays end with one last celebration: Simchat Torah – “Rejoicing with the Torah.” Torah means “teaching” in Hebrew. The word is used to describe the first five books of the Bible that tell the story of the Jewish people.
Each year the Torah story is retold, with one new section read each week. On Simchat Torah we finish reading the very last part of the Torah scroll – and then roll it all the way back to read the beginning.
On this holiday we even dance with the Torah because its words are so important to us. The Torah is sometimes described as a “tree of life for those who take care of it” – like a tree giving people what they need to grow. Throughout the year, studying the Torah can provide us with new inspiration and new ideas.