We have successfully navigated through the Yamim Noraim – the Awesome Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Our congregations have been filled, some beyond capacity and with overflow services. We have worn new clothes and white clothes. We have prayed, feasted, and fasted. We have considered our individual and communal challenges and opportunities.
We have also been engulfed in many issues which divide us. Nationally, responses to BDS movement, the Iran Deal, the upcoming 2016 elections, religious divides; and locally, choices of high schools, summer camps, synagogues, the continued rising costs of Jewish life, and how to strengthen our connections to our Jewish communal institutions. Our deliberations and discussions about these divisions have made these high holidays somewhat discouraging and exhausting.
And now we are commanded to “party.”
Z’man Simchateinu is our time to rejoice, our time truly to delight in our most Jewish experience. Sukkot represents a break from the divisions, challenges, and debates which confront us, and reminds us of our formative experience wandering in the desert for forty years. The holiday reminds us to go “back to basics”, to enjoy nature, and to appreciate our surroundings.
Each day during Sukkot, we are commanded to take a Lulav, comprised of the Arbat Ha’minim, Four Species, and make a unified blessing. The Kabbalah compares the Four Species and teaches us that they represent four different types of Jews. First, the Etrog, the yellow citron fruit, with its great taste and pleasing fragrance, represents an individual who has wisdom and performs good deeds. Second, the Hadass, boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree, has a good fragrance, but is inedible and therefore represents individuals who perform good deeds but lack wisdom. Third, the Lulav, the frond from a date palm tree, is edible, but has no smell, which represents the individual with wisdom, but who does not perform good deeds. Finally, the Aravah. Branches from the willow tree, has neither taste nor smell and represents the individual with neither wisdom nor the performance of good deeds.
These four types of Jews come together in a unified way during Sukkot. Our Z’man Simchateinu – our time to rejoice – happens because we bring it all together. We might all be different types of Jews, with different backgrounds, different positions, and different perspectives. But on this holiday, we celebrate together to create one nation as one union of these four species. Long ago, we would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to joyously celebrate together. As a Jewish people, we find our joy by uniting as one, despite and even because of our differences.
How can we make this holiday more special and joyous today?
First, we connect to the past. I have very fond and distinct memories growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, helping my father assemble our Sukkah each year and helping my Mom decorate it with favorite acquisitions from her travels. One year, we even won our Synagogue’s Sukkah Decorating Competition! And we always welcomed guests to our Sukkah from many different walks of life. The power of that memory grounds me to this day, especially during this time of year.
Second, we continue the tradition to the present day. I marvel that my wife and I have been able to maintain this special tradition, despite the many distractions generated by today’s lifestyle. My now teenagers, who – much to our dismay – may not always race to respond to our requests, remain eager to put up our Sukkah in record time and ensure the decorations find their traditional locations. Even assembling our Sukkah becomes a joy-filled, cooperative, and wonderful family affair, hearkening back to past years and past generations and gives me hope for today and for tomorrow.
Third, we find a way to get along. Remember the Four Species represents the coming together of four different types of Jews into a unified whole. With all of our communal divisions, this holiday brings us together. We seek joy in celebrating together. I feel fortunate that in my work supporting Jewish summer camps, we have successfully sought ways to come together as a field, to unify our approaches, and to celebrate our differences. The joy comes from being part of something bigger and helps model a future to which we aspire and for which we work so hard.
Especially following this year’s cerebral and challenging high holidays, I hope as we enter the Sukkah we will appreciate fully the lessons of this truly festive holiday. We remember our past, celebrate our present, and contemplate our future.
Chag Sameach – may we all have a truly joyous holiday, together.
Jeremy J. Fingerman is CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.