When I was a child, my Mom was the Hebrew School Principal. She was very enthusiastic about the Jewish Holidays and we always built a Sukkah. My Mom would heat up apple cider in an old coffee percolator and put cinnamon sticks and cloves, in the upper part, to flavor the hot cider. She would then serve donuts and hot cider to the neighborhood children and their parents. After school, during the week of Sukkot, our Sukkah was always full of friends because our Sukkah was the “Cool place” to hang out.
Often the holiday of Sukkot would fall near Halloween and I would note the contrast between the houses that we decorated to be scary and foreboding, and the Sukkah that was decorated to be welcoming of guests. Sukkot and Halloween are two different cultural responses to the same phenomenon of the Autumn’s growing darkness and the annual “Death of the trees.” At Halloween the ghosts and goblins that scare us are bribed with candy to go-away. At Sukkot, in contrast, we welcome strangers as invited guests to the Sukkah, so that all who are hungry may come and eat with us the fruits of the fall harvest.
The tradition is to invite at least one new guest into your Sukkah each day of the holiday. The guests are called “Ushpizin” (honored guests). If you could invite anyone into your Sukkah, living or dead, who would you invite? Moses? Deborah the Judge? Golda Meir? A beloved family member?
When we invite guests from the past it helps us reconnect with those we painfully miss. I wonder if this is the origin of Yikzor, our memorial service observed at the end of Sukkot. Yizkor is a time of remembering loved ones. It would be overwhelming to light a Yahrzeit (memorial) candle every day, so wisely tradition provides us with designated times for honoring the memories of our deceased. Our beloved departed become our spiritual Ushpizin during Sukkot.
We will observe Yizkor at 10am on Monday, October 10th. This is the same day that Yizkor is observed in Israel. Rabbi Greenberg will lead this service by Zoom.
Tonight, Friday October 14th, you are invited to be honored guests “Ushpizin” in our congregation’s “Sukkah of Peace.” Tot Shabbat at 5:30pm, Shabbat Dinner for the entire community at 6pm, and Sukkot Service at 7pm. May we enjoy the blessings of friendship and community as we celebrate the Jewish Autumn Harvest Festival.
I wish you a Chag Sukkot Sameach,
Rabbi David Wilfond