Tag Archives: booths

in honor of the temporary

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Riding a bicycle (though I haven’t done it for years) is an allegory for me on living life. We have to be constantly aware of balance, and at the same time are bolstered by the forward movement and the wheels going round, establishing centrifugal force. Though yin and yang is not part of the Jewish tradition, when I read about it in my study of eastern religions, I accepted it as an inherent part of life, familiar and inclusive. Each year we have the same holidays at the same time of the year. Are they repeat performances of something we’ve already done? Yes and no. Every week, we read a portion of the pentateuch. Is it the same each year? Again, yes and no.

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These cyclical events are in fact a repeated framework, and there is a general message that is enforced with each experience. But they are different for us each time we observe them. Each time we read a particular portion of the five books of Moses, we look at it differently, and examine it in the light of different commentaries and by comparing the historical chapter to things that have happened in or own lives, or bits of wisdom that may be understood in the context of our own experiences.

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The holiday of tabernacles comes at the start of our year, after celebrating the new year and having a day dedicated to soul searching and the acceptance of our own mortality. Tabernacles reminds us of our exodus from the slavery of Egypt, but we don’t usually dwell on the subject. I live in a stone house as do all of my neighbors, but once a year, we leave the comfort of our homes, and move into temporary booths which are considered home for a week. It is meant to remind us that all of life is temporary. That even the security of home is a temporary circumstance. We don’t suffer much from hurricanes or terrible earthquakes, so we have to take it upon ourselves to remember that the physical structures of our lives are not permanent. The roofs of our booths are built so that we will see the sky through the roof, and the walls of our temporary homes do not insulate us from the environment. On the outside, they all look pretty similar. But on the inside, they are usually decorated, and pictures may be added to make them as pleasant as possible.

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As the years go by, each year provides a very different experience, even though the framework remains the same. Many of us have used the same boards or tent cloth from year to year with very few changes. What’s important about the tabernacles is our own subjective experience, which changes from year to year. Of course, different people have varying enthusiasm towards custom and tradition. Some folks are satisfied to visit such a booth just once, or a few times maybe. They might choose to visit the booth of a friend, or sit in one set up by city administration, or by one of the many synagogues in our town. Those of us who are more religious will build their own booth, and spend more or less time in it. Most of those who have their own booth will eat their meals in the booth. And there are some people who are so adherent that they will not eat in any other place but a booth, which is called in Hebrew, a sukkah. A lot of the restaurants in town have set up booths for their customers to sit in while they eat. This custom is prevalent in our town.

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Among my family and friends it is common for us to eat all our meals in the sukkah, but only a minority insist on sleeping in the booth. Even so, this practice is respected. In my youth I often slept in the sukkah, but nowadays I’m no longer willing to give up the comfort of my own bed.

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The days of this holiday, this year, have been very intensive. I no longer have the strength I once had and was used to. And in this period of my life, it is wearing for me to spend a lot of time with people. Long conversations and continuous social activity wears me out, even though I have the very good luck of meeting with the finest of people, folks that I truly love. So I didn’t really expect that I’d have the strength to write a blog post today. I thought maybe I’d post a photo and leave it at that… maybe a photo and a link to some previous post. But then, I started searching out pictures of the holiday in past years, and I found so many that it was hard for me to choose. And while looking at old pictures, chose to check out some of the recent photos of family and friends in booths this last week, and that made it even harder. And now I’ve written all of this, so here’s another post on the festival of tabernacles.

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pursuit of happiness

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‘to life’ – wine from the bottle

This is the end of the second week that I’ve been living away from home, in exile, so to speak… not wanting to watch the whole process of the selling of my home, and taking it apart, and the packing… all that is part of moving from one place to another. The first thing you might notice about that, is that I’m a very self indulgent person… one who chooses what he wants to do, and what he doesn’t, and avoids some of the chores that everyone else would feel obligated to do himself. Of course, it would be impossible for many others to do what I’m doing. But I’m fortunate in having friends who are willing to suffer my eccentric behavior. And I can only hope that I amuse them enough in ‘normal’ times to make up for my selfishness at times like these.

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on a walk around town

And living here in the home of my dear friend, Janne, I have been slowly adjusting to a slightly different existence from my usual, though trying to keep up with those things I usually do. My walks have been longer, because I’m in a new environment, and seeing new sights I’m not used to. I spend time looking at the trees and the vegetation, examining the houses and the streets of this new neighborhood, lingering at the corner market, checking out what they have to sell. I explored a very beautiful park the other day. I don’t know if it’s the only one here. There may be others… and introduced myself to the local cats.

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cat on a street corner

In fact, I had two very interesting meetings with local people the other day. There was a woman who approached me while I was at the park. She spoke to me hesitantly, telling me that she thought we might have a common interest. I encouraged her, waiting to hear what was on her mind. She mentioned that she noticed I had a camera. Yes, I said. I was a photographer. And she had observed, she said, that I had taken some pictures of the cats in the park. Quite true, I agreed, still puzzled about her interest. I wondered if she wanted me to do a portrait of her pet cat… But then all was revealed. She explained that she had written a number of letters to the town council, complaining that there were too many cats in the village. Some of them were even so rude as relieve themselves in the public park, while others were unembarrassed to make love noisily in the middle of the night, waking up sleeping citizens with their catcalls. Unfortunately, she had received no replies from the city council. But seeing me here… a man she was unfamiliar with, watching the cats… and even photographing them… she couldn’t help but think, that just maybe, the town council had sent me to deal with the problem. Was it true? Was I gathering the needed evidence so that these lousy cats could be eradicated? Or at least banished from the town?

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the town as seen from above

With the greatest possible tact, I explained to her that I was a visitor here… staying with a friend, and getting the feel of her wonderful town. And that as a matter of fact, my photographing the cats was motivated by a sincere admiration and affinity for cats. Where did I come from, she asked, a look of sadness on her face. I come from Jerusalem, I said, and as you probably know, I continue, the emblem of our city is the lion of Judah, and these cats remind me of that regal lion. Oh, she said, with a disappointed sigh… If only you would take all of our cats back with you, when you return to your Jerusalem. But she was nice enough to wish me a very pleasant stay in her town, nodding her head all the while, as if this disappointment was a little hard for her to take. We parted in a friendly way.

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And the thought that has been occupying my mind today, is that I came here to this village to escape a situation that was unbearable for me. I was uprooted from my familiar surroundings, from my books and tools and conveniences. But what I found was a beautiful and intensive experience of life. Just a short while ago we celebrated the holiday of tabernacles, and had to move out of our homes for a week to fulfill the traditional demands of that holiday… in order to be reminded that our own lives and circumstances aren’t permanent. And now, unexpectedly, I’m reliving that experience in real time. And it isn’t just for a week. I don’t know how long this process will take. But it seems a test of all we’ve learned from that traditional holiday. My ability to adjust to a different environment, and to make the most of life even when things don’t go the way I’m used to… that’s the test. And my objective, of course, should be to enjoy life as much as possible during this time. Not to wait till the temporary inconvenience is over. But to immerse myself completely in the experience. And to relish every moment… the good and the bad… because the clock is ticking, and we’ll will never have these moments again. Life is going by.

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the commercial center

So I’m living my life as best I can. Doing the things I love to do. I’ve been playing with the subtleties of color, and doing some photography using a wide 16:9 format. It’s both interesting and challenging, and distracts me from the memories and emotions related to the move. As I approach the Sabbath, I welcome the added joy of a day set apart, in which we celebrate the interwoven joy of the spiritual and material, and rest from our work, whatever it may be.

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at Janne’s home with Georgia

the holiday of booths

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booths right outside of my home, in Jerusalem

We are now in the middle of a month of holidays that started with the Jewish new year. This evening we begin the holiday of booths. It is the only holiday in which we are commanded to be happy. Not an easy thing, to decide to be happy. But that is only on of the many aspects of this autumnal holiday. What I personally like best about it, is the practice of leaving one’s home for a temporary hut or booth outside, in memory of our exodus from Egypt, where we were slaves, and our return to the land of our fathers, in Israel. The holiday is sometimes called tabernacles. In Jerusalem, there are almost as many different booths around town, as there are houses in the city. But I am on vacation for this holiday, and presently staying in a very small town, where two of my children live with their families. Here there are fewer types of booths. Still the most popular are made of boards or of material. The material ones have a wooden or metal frame, and they are all quite beautiful on the inside and quite plain on the outside… because most people don’t care how they will look from the outside, but enjoy a festive appearance on the inside where they will sit.

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My own personal booth is made of canvass, but I don’t use it much in recent years because I am usually invited to the homes of friends and children, and travel around on this holiday. Part of the spirit of the holiday is to invite guests into your temporary home. We even invite the spirits of our ancestors. I love the booths. I like visiting those of friends. And I like tents too. I have loved them all my life. In my eyes there is something very romantic about residing in a tent… especially in nature. But there is something surreal about moving out of the home and into the booth on this holiday of ours. And though this is the season when the rains start, it is our practice to make a loose roof, of branches, or canes, through which one can see the stars.

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one of my neighbors makes his booth out of doors

Aside from the booths, the holiday is also identified with the four species (see the picture below). These four species are held in one’s hands, and blessings are said over them, either in the booths or in the synagogue, and especially when singing favorite passages from the psalms. The four species are these: a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree; boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree; branches with leaves from the willow tree; and the fruit of a citron tree, much loved and native to Israel. It is a little like a lemon, but more beautiful in my opinion, with a very unique and pleasant smell. It is known as an ‘etrog’ in Hebrew, and not often encountered outside of our country. What I like most about the citron, is that they grow in the direction of the sky, and do not hang down from the branches like most fruit.

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the four species

The four species are considered symbolic of the Jewish people, and when we bless or pray holding them together in our hands, we are symbolically tying ourselves to our people despite our differences. The palm frond from the date tree represents the fruit that is sweet but has no smell, representing those people who study, but do not practice good deeds. The myrtle which has fragrance but no taste are thought to represent those who have good deeds but are not educated. The willow is thought not to have taste nor smell, and they represent those who are neither educated nor practice good deeds. And the citron which has a good taste and a good smell is thought to represent those who are both educated and practice good deeds.

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sons, grandchildren, and rabbi in a family booth

There are many other explanations and stories relating to the four species. And they are very important to our holiday. We are reminded by our moving from our homes into temporary booths that no matter how beautiful and solid our home might be, all of life is a temporary existence, and not to get carried away by materialist possessions. We are reminded not to take things for granted, for we have been strong, and we have been weak… and we are reminded that there are consequences to our choices.

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friends listening to words of wisdom in the tabernacle

Yet most important is the happiness of the holiday. For we are instructed in our holy bible to be happy on this holiday; the only holiday in the year in which that is specifically asked of us. And at the end of the holiday, we have a huge party in which we celebrate the conclusion of the reading of the five books of Moses, and immediately afterwards, start the reading once again. This celebration is a great and wonderful one, in which we actually dance with the scrolls of the bible written on parchment. But that is still another holiday… and another story.

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these are artificial fruit that are hung from the ceiling of the booth, as decorations. Many people hang actual fruit from the ceilings… but some of us take the easy route

meeting with family

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some of my grandchildren looking at my recent photos

I’ve gotten a number of letters from internet friends abroad, saying that now that the holidays are over, I’m probably on my way back to normal life. Actually, nothing of the sort! Right now, we’re at the height of the holiday season here in Israel. We’ve ushered in the new year, had a bit of introspection and soul searching, which peaked with the day of atonement which was a day of fasting. Now we’ve started the holiday of booths, also known as Sukkoth, which lasts a week, In this holiday, people move out of their homes, and into little huts, with roofs that are covered with branches, or date leaves, which become their homes for a week. This experience reminds us of what it’s like to look for freedom… what it was like to leave slavery in Egypt and go back to our ancestral home in Israel, over three and a half thousand years ago!

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a booth built outside their home

Some people celebrate with friends and family in these temporary booths, built alongside their regular homes, sometimes in a back yard, sometimes in their parking lots… you see them all over. Others go off for vacation, even though it’s exactly the opposite weather of what you’d choose for vacation. Often it rains around this time. In fact, we got a little rain last night, though this time, we have been experiencing tropical weather, which is much more unusual. The rain was hot! And yesterday, 5000 homes were disconnected from electricity, but most of the damage has been repaired.

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booths built on balconies

I have set this week aside, for getting together with children and grand children, all around the country, and so, have not had much time for visiting blogs, or even answering the comments on my last blog post. But don’t worry about me. This holiday is considered the happiest on the Jewish calendar, Everywhere I go, people are sharing wonderful food and good stories, And even those who got stuck in traffic jams going ‘off to nature’ or those sitting in booths that got rained on… kept on celebrating. There will be stories and pictures in the future. Meantime, we’re having a lot of fun, and adventures. See you later.

booths

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booths right outside of my home, in Jerusalem

There are many aspects of this autumnal holiday. But what I like best about it, is the practice of leaving one’s home for a temporary tabernacle or booth outside, in memory of our exodus from Egypt, where we were slaves, and our return to the land of our fathers, in Israel. In Jerusalem, there are almost as many different booths around town, as there are houses in the city. But here in this small town, there are fewer types. Still the most popular are made of boards or of material. The material ones have a wooden or metal frame, and they are all quite beautiful on the inside and quite plain on the outside… because most people don’t care how they will look from the outside, but enjoy a festive appearance on the inside where they will sit.

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My own personal booth is made of canvass, but I don’t use it much in recent years because I am usually invited to the homes of friends and children, and travel around on this holiday. I love the booths. I like visiting those of friends. And I like tents too. I have loved them all my life. In my eyes there is something very romantic about residing in a tent… especially in nature. But there is something surreal about moving out of the home and into the booth on this holiday of ours. And though this is the season when the rains start, it is our practice to make a loose roof, of branches, or canes, through which one can see the stars.

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one of my neighbors makes his booth out of doors

Aside from the booths, the holiday is also identified with the four species (see picture). These four species are held in one’s hands, and blessings are said over them, either in the booths or in the synagogue, and especially when singing favorite passages from the psalms. The four species are these: a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree; boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree; branches with leaves from the willow tree; and the fruit of a citron tree, much loved and native to Israel. It is a little like a lemon, but more beautiful in my opinion, with a very unique and pleasant smell. It is well known as an etrog in Hebrew, and not often encountered outside of our country. What I like most about the citron, is that they grow in the direction of the sky, and do not hang down from the branches like most fruit.

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the four species

The four species are considered symbolic of the Jewish people, and when we bless or pray holding them together in our hands, we are symbolically tying ourselves to our people despite our differences. The palm frond from the date tree represents the fruit that is sweet but has no smell, representing those people who study, but do not practice good deeds. The myrtle which has fragrance but no taste are thought to represent those who have good deeds but are not educated. The willow is thought not to have taste nor smell, and they represent those who are neither educated nor practice good deeds. And the citron which has a good taste and a good smell is thought to represent those who are educated and also have good deeds as well.

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sons, grandchildren, and rabbi in a family booth

There are many other explanations and stories relating to the four species. And they are very important to our holiday. We are reminded by our moving from our homes into temporary booths that no matter how beautiful and solid our home might be, all of life is a temporary existence, and not to get carried away by materialist possessions. We are reminded not to take things for granted, for we have been strong, and we have been weak… and we are reminded that there are consequences to our choices.

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friends listening to words of wisdom in the tabernacle

Yet most important is the happiness of the holiday. For we are instructed in our holy bible to be happy on this holiday; the only holiday in the year in which that is specifically asked of us. And at the end of the holiday, we have a huge party in which we celebrate the conclusion of the reading of the five books of Moses, and immediately afterwards, start the reading once again. This celebration is a great and wonderful one, in which we actually dance with the scrolls of the bible written on parchment. But that is actually another holiday… and another story.