Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah - September of October
Two sets of Jewish festivals occur in the Fall, one immediately following the other. The first set of holidays includes Rosh HaShanah and, about a week later, Yom Kippur. The second set includes Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
SUKKOT (rhymes with “blue coat”)
The nine-day festival of Sukkot (booths) begins five days after Yom Kippur. This is a thanksgiving festival. Work is avoided, like on the Sabbath, for the first two and last two days, but not so much on the days in between. On all these days it is customary to eat meals in a Sukkah (rhymes with “book – ah” and means “booth”). A Sukkah is a temporary booth with a roof that can provide shade but cannot hide the stars or keep out the rain. Among other things, the Sukkah reminds us that we are so dependent upon the world around us that we cannot shut it out. Also the Sukkah reminds us of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, as described by the Torah. Jews also celebrate with branches of palms, myrtle, and willow, and with citrons (lemon-like fruit) which can be interpreted as symbols of abundance.
SHEMINI ATZERET AND SIMCHAT TORAH
The last two days of Sukkot, upon which work is also avoided, are considered distinctive holidays in their own right. Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Gathering, pronounced “sh’-mee-nee ott-say-ret”) marks the beginning of the end of this entire holiday season. One of the practices on this day is the recitation of Yizkor, the Memorial Service. At this time Jews remember people who were an important part of their lives but who have since died. That particular service is a sad time in the midst of joy. The second day is Simchat Torah (roughly pronounced “sim-cot toe-rah” which means “Rejoicing of the Torah.”) This last day of all the festivals of the month is the most joyful of all. It is a celebration of the Torah itself, the first Five Books of the Bible and the part of the Bible that provides the foundation for our entire way of life. It marks the time of year when we finish the annual cycle of reading the Torah and begin it again. Celebrations in the synagogue are marked not only by prayer services, but also with spirited dancing with the Torah scrolls.
A PROPER GREETING FOR THIS HOLIDAY TIME IS EITHER:
Gut Yontif – which is Yiddish ( a Jewish-German) for Happy Holiday
Khag Samey-akh – which is Hebrew for Happy Holiday