Jews throughout Valley Stream celebrated the Jewish festival of Sukkot last week — translated as the Feast of Tabernacles — celebrating the fall harvest and commemorating the 40 years Jews spent wandering the desert after their Exodus from Egypt.
The Chabad Outreach Center, at 550 Rockaway Ave., held a program on Oct. 8 for its Hebrew school students to learn about the holiday. Roughly 120 students ran races, played games and decorated two cookies in the shape of a lulav — a bundle of branches from willows, myrtles and palms, and an etrog, or citron. It is customary in Jewish tradition to shake the lulav and etrog during Sukkot, and pray for a good harvest.
“We want to get them to have the opportunity to do everything that needs to be done on this holiday,” said Itty Goldshmid, the Chabad’s program director.
At the Valley Stream Jewish Center, at 322 N. Corona Ave., Sisterhood members gathered in the synagogue’s parking lot on Oct. 4 to decorate their sukkah, a temporary shelter where Jews gather for Sukkot, before the holiday began at sundown.
“We want to make the holiday festive,” said Norma Bush, a Sisterhood member.
The three women and one maintenance worker, José Melosevich, who decorated the sukkah that morning, hung pictures on its walls, and suspended plastic fruit and flowers from the ceiling.
There are no rules for decorating a sukkah, according to Rabbi Yechiel Buchband. “The Torah only tells us that we’re supposed to dwell in a sukkah for seven days, but that’s all it tells us,” the rabbi said. “It doesn’t tell us what a sukkah looks like, it doesn’t say how to build one. All of that the Jewish people had to work out over time, and then preserve that in our oral histories.”
The rules for decorating, as described by ancient sages, include the idea that the roof must be made of natural materials (usually leaves or trees) so that the dwellers can see through it.
“You want there to be some ability to see the sky,” Buchband said, “and at nighttime, that means to see the stars, and the stars have always been a symbol of God’s blessings.” He added that in the Book of Genesis, God tells Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.
To commemorate the holiday, congregants of the Jewish center attended services at 6:15 p.m. and dinner in the sukkah at 7 p.m. There were also morning services at 9:30 a.m. the next day. During the services, congregants sang psalms performed in the ancient temple in Jerusalem and read King Solomon’s reflections on life to provide more somber perspective on the day.
“This was actually considered the greatest of all festivals,” Buchband said.