Jews and Israelis around the world are celebrating the Sukkot holiday. For forty years, our ancestors traveled in the desert before reaching the Holy Land. They lived off of a unique Manna that came down from the sky, were protected by a special cloud, and resided in tents. They completely depended upon G-d for their survival, like all people that lived in the wilderness.
It is part of the Jewish tradition to start off the Jewish New Year celebrating a Harvest festival known as Sukkot by living in a temporary building known as a sukkah at least in order to eat and some even sleep in it. It is also part of the Jewish religion to recite a special blessing over the Four Species that includes a lulav, an Etrog, myrtle branches and willow branches that represent different types of Jews. It is considered a time of joy and when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, there were all-day festivities in honor of this important holiday.
However, as Jews around the begin this special holiday, it is important to remember that different Jewish communities around the world celebrate this special and fun holiday in various ways. This is not because we are not one nation but is rather due to our two-thousand-year long Diaspora that separated the Jewish people into different communities that managed to preserve their nationhood while also adopting various local customs.
The Syrian Jewish community decorates the Sukkah hut with the seven different species of the Land of Israel, which are barley, wheat, pomegranates, dates, figs, olives and grapes. Towards the end of the holiday, Syrian worshipers stay awake all night, studying Deuteronomy, Psalms and the Zohar. There is also a special aliyah (calling up) of children to read from the Torah, after which Syrian Jews threw almonds into the air and proceeded to eat them afterward. After the holiday, Syrian Jews use the Etrog or citrus for preparing jam.
Sephardic Jews hang biscochos (pastries baked in the form of a circle) up in the sukkah. Spanish and Portuguese Jews also place plums and cranberries in the sukkah. Sephardic Jews keep the lulav till Passover and use it as a broom to remove all of the bread products from the home. Towards the end of the holiday, some Sephardic Jews serve Macaroni and cheese in the Sukkah. After the holiday, Sephardic Jews use the Etrog for the weekly havdalah service that is performed when Shabbat comes out.
The Moroccan Jewish community decorates their sukkot with ornate Middle Eastern rugs and special Elijah’s chairs. Moroccan children receive special candies during the holiday. The lulav is decorated with silk ribbons and bells. After the holiday, it is sometimes placed in a flowerpot to promote good health. All Moroccan Jewish communities serve a rich display of delicious foods including Moroccan fish, kebabs, homemade pita bread, couscous, Israeli salad, potato salad, spicy pepper salad, spicy tomato salad, hummus, matboucha (spicy tomato sauce), eggplant salad with tehina, fried eggplants, etc. The Moroccan Jews are famous for their wonderful displays of salads.
For European Jewish communities, the climate is a bit different and as a result, their sukkahs do not appear like the one’s communities in Israel and throughout the Middle East utilize. European Jewish Sukkahs are made out of pine and fir trees as colder climates required a sturdier sukkah than what was needed in warmer climates. Their sukkahs are simple. They are not as decorative as Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish ones are. Among European Jewish communities in the Caucuses, most of the Jews were too poor to afford an Etrog or Lulav, so they shared them as a community.
But also in the Caucuses, there is a community of Mountain Jews in Dagestan. They do have decorative Sukkahs full of beautiful carpets and rugs imported from Persia. The Etrog and the Lulav were also brought to this community either from Southern Russia or Persia. They alone among the Caucuses Jewish community celebrated the holiday in a more Oriental fashion.
When there used to be a Jewish community in Aden, the entire Jewish Quarter of Aden transformed during Sukkot into a gigantic garden. Their sukkahs were beautifully decorated with many oriental cloths. They hung apples, pomegranates and citrus from their sukkahs. Their meals inside the Sukkah consumed hours and they sang during this holiday, sometimes in Hebrew and other times in Arabic. At night, the sukkahs lit up with special lamps that were imported from India.
In Israel, it is traditional throughout the Sukkot holiday for families to go on trips throughout the country visiting various museums, historic sites, and religious holy places. The national parks, the beaches, all of the major cities, and Israel’s holy sites are expected to be full of visitors. Not only Israeli families but also many restaurants have sukkahs so that families eating out can also sit in a sukkah for their meals. Israeli families will hold BBQs across the country that will feature various kebabs, grilled chicken, hummus, pita, schoog (Moroccan red hot chili peppers), umba (Iraqi spice made out of mangos), delicious grilled vegetables, and a great display of salads. It is one of the best holidays to celebrate in the Holy Land.