Preparing for Sukkot Around the World

The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the 15th day of the seventh month, which is the fifth day after Yom Kippur.

One of the most wonderful things about Sukkot (pronounced sue-COAT in Hebrew) is that it is such an unreservedly joyous holiday, when Jewish people celebrate God’s bountiful provision. The word sukkot itself means “hut” or “booth” and the holiday is sometimes referred to as the Jewish Thanksgiving.

Each year Jews all over the world make the transition from observing one of the most solemn holidays of the year to one of the most joyful ones. Because it is such a celebratory and happy time, the seven-day period of Sukkot is also known as the Season of Our Rejoicing.

Many Jewish people travel from all over the world to celebrate Sukkot in Jerusalem, where the city holds the Autumn Nights Festival and the Jerusalem March. Visitors can enjoy a full week of feasting, dancing, and parties in Jerusalem.

While the first day of Sukkot is a day of rest for which businesses will close, the businesses then normally re-open for the remainder of the week.

Historically, Sukkot commemorates the 40-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering the desert and living in temporary shelters. Today in Israel, people celebrate the Festival of Sukkot by constructing similar small temporary huts with thatched roofs made of palm fronds, called sukkots (or singular sukkah), such as those described in the book of Leviticus:

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.

You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23: 42-43)

Today, the sukkah is said to symbolize the fragility of life. Together with the four species of the Sukkot prayer, the sukkah represents how Jewish people should worship God wholly with their entire body.

In Israel, shoppers can be seen at the Mahane Yehuda shuk, or open air market, carefully selecting their etrogs and lulavs. Etrogs are fragrant citrus fruits that are similar to lemons, and lulavs are closed date palm fronds. Together with a bough from a myrtle tree and one from a willow tree, the etrog and the lulav make up the four species used in the Sukkot prayer.

One of the most interesting and fun things about Sukkot is the large list of songs and dances from around the world that are associated with the holiday. You can listen to them by clicking here. And don’t be shy about singing along!

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