by Devon Nola
Sukkot (Hebrew) is a biblical Jewish festival translated as Feast of Tabernacles and occurs in the fall. It has both agricultural and historical origins. According to the book of Exodus ( 34:22), it marks the end of the harvest time and the agricultural year in the Land of Israel. In the Book of Leviticus (23 :42-43), it commemorates the forty-year period during which the Jews were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters.
During the eight-day holiday (seven in Israel), temporary enclosed structures, called sukkahs, are erected and this is where the meals are eaten. I live 8 blocks from the very large Ashkenazi, Zionist Hasidic community, Chabad Lubavitch. This holiday brings the otherwise secluded Lubivitchers up to my end, in droves, where they approach everyone they pass and ask, “are you Joyeesh?” If someone is, they wish them “Chag Sameach” or ‘happy holiday’. If the answer is no, they keep it movin’. Nothing to wish to the goyim.
What is impressive about this holiday is the work that goes into its preparation. I watch sukkot being constructed throughout their community, which involves large trucks bringing in tall panels of wood and Hasidic men directing labourers on where to make the piles and even doing the actual construction. These structures are somewhat of an eyesore as they litter a community that is multicultural, but they’ll only be up for 8 days so everyone just accepts it. Mitzvah tanks covered in Hebrew letters and images of rabbis are out in full force blasting klezmer music from their speakers. The celebration of the ancient nomadic Jews and the reaping of their harvest is underway. Ironically, some 5700 miles away, Jews in Israel are doing the same thing, while simultaneously destroying actual nomadic Palestinian Arab communities. Bedouins construct temporary structures and move from place to place with their livestock, but are being forced off their own land into a sedentary lifestyle in permanent structures by the Israeli government. The Israeli government actually forces the Bedouins to demolish their own shelters.
Sukkot can be seen throughout NYC. Typically, there is a small one in Union Square and young Hasidic men are all too happy to tell the tale of this joyous, Joyeesh festival. The Upper East Side is also home to a sukkah, however, this one ran into a bit of controversy. A “vandal” allegedly spray-painted the tent with the slogan, “Free Gaza”. Its being qualified as a hate crime. I don’t see how a message to free a viciously oppressed people can be misconstrued as hate. It’s the most loving, selfless message on earth. According to The Times Of Israel, “Free Gaza” is an anti-Israel slogan. So, they are unapologetically stating that the freedom of the Palestinians is the current price to be paid for Jewish liberation. Is it any wonder Israelis project the notion that it is the Palestinians calling for destruction of the Jews? The ADL qualified the incident as “beyond the pale”. How dare anyone interfere with the Jewish celebration of an ancient tribe by drawing attention to the crimes against humanity being carried out by their modern-day kin?