When the holiday of Yom Kippur ends, materials
began to be gathered for the construction of the sukkah-a temporary
dwelling in which the seven-day-long holiday of Sukkot is celebrated. In
Poland, this period is called the holiday of the "Kuczki", which comes
from the Old Polish word kucza, which means "shepherd's hut". Sukkot is
also known as the festival of the Booths or Tabernacles. It is one of
three pilgrimage holidays (shalosh regalim) during which in Biblical
times one was supposed to go on a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem
to give offerings from the harvest.
Sukkot is celebrated over the course of seven days, from the
fifteenth to the twenty-first day of the month of Tishri, in
commemoration of the Jews' exodus from Egypt and their forty days of
wandering through the desert.
The command to observe this holiday is found in the Bible, in
Leviticus 23:34 "Say to the Israelites: 'On the fifteenth day of the
seventh month the Lord's Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for
seven days,'" and in Leviticus 23:42-45: "Live in booths for seven days:
All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so that your
descendants will know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I
brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God."
In addition to the symbolic ceremonies connected with the exodus,
Sukkot is also a harvest festival. Another explanation is that this
holiday allows people to remove themselves completely from the troubles
of daily life and civilization, and to return to the conditions that
make it possible to "touch the earth with one's feet and see the stars
overhead," which in turn brings people closer to the presence of God in
Moving for a week to the "booth" that has been
constructed outside is supposed to aid this process. This booth, or
sukkah, is a building made of boards, or canvas stretched across boards,
covered with branches and leaves so that sunlight can enter, and so
that at night the stars are visible. The inside of the sukkah is heavily
decorated with garlands made of flowers and branches, fruit, rowan
berries, flowers and also carpets and paintings. They are built in
courtyards and gardens, although when some people design their homes,
they construct part of the roof in such a way that a sukkah may be
erected on top of the house.
One should eat at least one meal a day in such a "booth", to which
friends are invited, as well as the poor, homeless and lonely. The
ushpizin are the mystical guests to the sukkah, Biblical forefathers and
rulers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.
During this period, sweet dishes are served, as well as juicy ones
and stuffed specialities, such as pierogies, stuffed cabbage, stuffed
fish and all kinds of sweet pastries, cakes and candies.
The festival of Sukkot also has special ceremonies during religious
services. When the halel is said�Psalms 113 to 118-praising God,
recalling the exodus from Egypt and expressing faith in salvation, the
arba minim is shaken, a term which means literally "with four species".
This is a kind of bouquet made up of palm leaves (lulav), willow sprigs
(arava) and myrtle (hadas), as well as the fruit of the goodly tree,
which is in the citrus family. This symbolizes the different kinds of
Jews who make up the Jewish community. The palm bears sweet fruit, but
has no aroma, and symbolizes the people who study the Torah, but who do
not follow its commandments. The willow has neither aroma, nor fruit,
and symbolizes those who have lost their faith. Myrtle has a nice smell,
but no fruit, which represents those who follow Jewish laws but are not
learned. The fruit of the goodly tree is aromatic and bears juicy
fruit, and is the symbol of human perfection. The bouquet of these four
species also symbolizes the human spine, which must bend before God.
During the ceremony, it is shaken in all four directions, as well as up
and down, which expresses one's belief that the Almighty is omnipresent.
In the liturgy of the seventh day, Hoshanah
Rabba (Hebrew, "Please save us!"), seven circuits are made around the
synagogue, holding a lulav. During this joyful procession, during which
there is also dancing and singing, each time the pulpit (bimah) is
passed, one Torah scroll is taken back to the ark (Aron Kodesh). As the
ceremony draws to an end, the lulav is beaten against the floor until
all its leaves fall off. This "threshing of the leaves" is supposed to
bring rain, i.e., to be a sign that next year's harvest will be a good
one, but it also symbolizes that one is being cleansed of one�s sins,
which have fallen away, just like the leaves from the branches.
In the Diaspora, an eighth day is added to the seventh one-shmini
atseret (the eighth day of gathering), which is a summing up of the
entire period of autumn holidays: from the atonement holiday of Rosh
Hashanah, to Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In synagogues a prayer for rain is
said, and also Izkor, a prayer for the dead. The main ceremony of this
day is the Simchat Torah (Hebrew, "Joy of the Torah"), which marks the
conclusion of the yearly cycle of Torah readings. Before prayers begin,
the rolls are raised to the pulpit, and lit candles are placed on the
ark, as a sign of the eternal presence of God. Men carry the scrolls
around the synagogue, and children wave colorful paper banners, the tops
of which have an apple with a candle stuck in them. This ceremony lasts
many hours, and after it concludes (siyum), all the faithful are
invited for something to eat.
In keeping with tradition, Sukkot is celebrated in Poland with great
festivity. Although the booths are no longer erected individually, for
each family, every year a large sukkah is constructed near the
synagogue, where the entire congregation celebrates. It is a chance for
shared prayer and song, and also for a social gathering, to which women
bring something that they have made to eat.