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Sukkot Without Guests?!

Written by Ronit Sholkoff, Berkeley Hillel Student Board Member

This weekend marks the start of my favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot. On Sukkot, which can be translated to “Festival of Booths,” it is traditional to build a small hut, or Sukkah, in your backyard. The Sukkah represents the huts that the Israelites lived in when they wandered the desert for 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt. It’s considered a mitzvah to eat, drink, and sleep in this hut during the week-long festival. In addition, it’s also customary to invite guests and enjoy being together in your makeshift home.

It’s this custom that I love the most. I love hosting people, planning for a small get together and watching people from different parts of my life interact with one another. It’s also the part I’ll miss the most this year.

Beginning with Zoom Passover Seder in April, the Covid-19 Pandemic has radically shifted Jewish ritual and Jewish life. For a religion centered on the power of community, replicating the vibrancy of a congregation or a Hillel barbeque is nearly impossible in a little square box. Initially, facing a prospect of a guest-less Sukkot was daunting, stressful, and to be completely honest, not particularly fun. So, in an attempt to gain some sort of meaning from yet another aspect of my life that changed because of our circumstances, I looked to none other than the Torah.

This Shabbat, we read a portion of Leviticus that explains the rules and rituals of Sukkot and other festivals. It’s relatively straightforward and direct: Sukkot is a festival. It’s a time to be happy and celebrate. What’s so meaningful about Sukkot is how it forces us to take a pause and spend time in a different kind of small box, but this time it’s not on Zoom. Sukkot is a time for us to be joyful and to celebrate the beauty of the moment. Whether or not we have the ability to live and eat in a Sukkah this year, we all can use time to pause, check in with ourselves, and focus on what’s in front of us. I know for me, my whole world revolves around my computer. This Sukkot, I’m challenging myself to spend some time away from my computer and go outside, and to find the joy in the little moments. I encourage you all to do the same. Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom.

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