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    In your own garden – Sukkot

    Each festival has its theme. Sometimes it is the individual and his soul. Sometimes it is the family and its future, sometimes the nation and its quality, sometimes the people and its ethos. With Sukkot it is Nature and God’s bounty.

    Maybe if you live in a rural environment you already have Nature as your neighbour, but if you are a city-dweller there is a special dimension to be found when you build your annual sukkah, however small it might have to be if its nook is hemmed in and its corner is precious.

    So many of our streets are concrete jungles, so many houses are brick building-blocks, so many apartments are anonymous pigeon-holes.

    Living in Jerusalem I constantly wonder why the ubiquitous building projects seldom have sukkah balconies. In our case there is a sukkah balcony which is one of the jewels of our home. Having a sukkah makes sure that at least once in a while you encounter a bit of fresh air and greenery. Even if it’s only for eight days you can get a tiny taste of Nature.

    In the cramped conditions of urban living we don’t all have the chance of building our own sukkah, so we try to make do by being invited to someone else’s or spending time in the synagogue sukkah. Some of us can do both.

    I well recall, even after many decades, the fragrance of a certain synagogue sukkah which I patronised as a child; I still vividly remember the greenery around the walls and I inhale the air and can taste the Kiddush-time sponge cake. That synagogue had its sukkah in an open area outside the shule and nothing could rival it.

    Up until recent times city dwelling was rather rare. The Torah makes a special point of Cain building a city (Gen. 4:17). That “city”, however, was probably only an encampment of two or three houses. In the Biblical era the only city with urban status was probably Jerusalem, though in modern terms Jerusalem was not much more than a village. The Mishnah Megillah speaks of villages, towns and cities, but none of them had any pretensions to city-status in modern terms.

    Until quite recently most people lived in relatively small settlements and indeed up to 200 years ago no more than one person in fifty lived in what we today would call a city. So it’s only recently that the sukkah was desperately needed as a fleeting contact with Nature. How they managed to build sukkot in Eastern Europe I have no idea.

    Move on to today and you see how hard it is to find a nook that is open to the sky and how important it is to have a festival which gives us a feeling for branches, greenery and the fresh air. Thanks to the sukkah, the Jewish people always had a feeling for Nature and gave thanks to the Creator. And thanks to the Arba’ah Minim used on Sukkot we Jews saw, held and celebrated samples of God’s Creation.

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