Sukkot in Western MA

Not Your Grandparents' Shtel: Exploring Jewish Culture in Western Mass by Amy Meltzer

Sukkot: The Backyard Harvest Festival

Kids participate in decorating the walls for our sukkah. (Photo credit: Amy Meltzer)

October is the month for harvest festivals in Western Massachusetts. It seems that every weekend there are numerous joyful celebrations of the bounty that our local farms produce. It’s one of the many reasons that I love Autumn in our region. And, of course, the changing leaves, the cool crisp nights and the much awaited departure of the mosquitoes (they will depart, right?)

It’s also the time of year when our family celebrates my very favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot, known in English as the Feast of Tabernacles. An ancient agricultural festival, the holiday celebrates the completion of the Fall harvest. The holiday is commemorated by building temporary shelters known as a sukkah. Traditional Jews eat all of their meals and even sleep in the sukkah for the duration of the week long holiday.

Not just any temporary structure counts as a sukkah. According to traditions that date back thousands of years, a sukkah must have at least two and a half walls. Its roof must be made out of natural materials that grow from the ground, such as branches or corn stalks. In order to be “kosher,” the roof must offer both shade from the sun and a view of the celestial bodies (the Sukkot festival always begins on a full moon.)

Once our sukkah is built, neighbors and friends join us to celebrate the harvest. (Photo credit: Amy Meltzer)

Our family has been building a sukkah each year since my husband and I were married. As an interfaith couple, this holiday has been one of the few Jewish celebrations where my husband doesn’t just watch quietly or follow my lead – he takes charge of the construction of the sukkah walls each year, while I’m in charge of the roof and the girls are in charge of decorations. We bought a basic kit from The Sukkah Project, with wood from our local lumber shop, and corn stalk roof gathered from our neighbors’ yard. I buy white sheets at Good Will each year for the walls, and invite our childrens’ friends to decorate them with acrylic paints. We hold an annual sukkah party featuring local cider and popcorn, and invite friends and neighbors to celebrate this year’s bountiful harvest with us in our own backyard.

SUKKOT IN WESTERN MA, 2011

As you might imagine, Sukkot is a popular holiday in New England, and there are a lot of wonderful events going on in Western Mass and its environs. All events are open to people of all traditions and faith backgrounds.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

  • 4:30-6:30pm – Sukkot Celebration: Sukkot activities for the whole family, including harvest and gleaning, environmental education, decorating the sukkah, lulav & etrog, getting to know our ushpizin (ancestral guests who visit the sukkah) at Jewish Community of Amherst. Bring musical instruments for informal jamming. Donations welcome. Potluck dinner in the Sukkah beginning at 5:30. 413-256-0160. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA

Friday, October 14th, 2011

  • 5:30-7:30pm – Kabbalat Shabbat in the Sukkah: Join Jewish “Entertain-ucator” Felicia Sloin and Rabbi Efraim Eisen for a musical, fun-filled celebration. and vegetarian potluck at Temple Israel.  413-773-5884. 27 Pierce Street. Greenfield, MA (FREE)
  • 5:30-7:30pm – Sukkot Potluck: Bring a vegetarian/dairy dish to Congregation Beth Israel. Contact for more info: rebrachel@cbiweb.org. 53 Lois Street. North Adams, MA. (FREE, bring dish to share) 

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

  • 11:45am-1:45pm – Sukkot Festival:  In the synagogue community garden at Congrgation B’nai Israel. Help out in the garden, and enjoy homemade pizza and music. 413-584-6622. 253 Prospect Street. Northampton, MA
  • 2-3:30pm – Sukkah Party: Crafts, music, lulav brachot and snacks in the Sukkah at Chabad House. 413-549-2008. 30 North Hadley Rd. in Amherst, MA (FREE)

SIMCHAT TORAH IN WESTERN MA

The last day of sukkot is a separate holiday, known as Simchat Torah. It’s a celebration of the annual cycle of reading aloud from the Torah, known in English as the Pentatuach or the Five Books of Moses. The highlight of the holiday is a night of festive dancing with Torah scrolls.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

  • 10-11am – PJ Library Comes to Sinai Academy:  The children will learn about the holiday of Simchat Torah, reading a story about the holiday, work on a craft program, and have a snack at Sinai Academy This program is geared for children ages 2 – 5 (siblings are invited, too!). For more info contact Susan Frisch Lehrer at jfb.volunteer@verizon.net. . 413-442-4360, ext. 14199 South Street. Pittsfield, MA (FREE)

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

  • 6:30-8:30pm – Simchat Torah Family Service: Dancing and singing with the Torah and a special blessing for children at Congregation B’nai Israel. 413-586-6622. 253 Prospect Street. Northampton, MA
  • 7pm – Simchat Torah Family Service: Including hakafot (Torah parade) and a roll out and tour of the Torah scroll at Jewish Community of Amherst. Children and adults invited, needing 70 folks to participate! . 413-256-0160. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA.

SUKKOT EVENTS OVER THE BORDER

Here are a few out of the way events that were too good not to include!

VERMONT

Wednesday, October 13th, 2011

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

CONNECTICUT

Friday, October 7th-27th, 2011

  • Sukkah City of Hartford: As part of their 7th Annual Celebration of Jewish Arts and Culture, Charter Oak Landing partners with Riverfront Recapture,  presenting an innovative installation. Based on a wildly successful design competition in New York City, Sukkah City of Hartford will breathe new life into the ancient, sacred, beautiful tradition of building a sukkah.  Enjoy an afternoon of juried art, music and conversation in one of Hartford’s most beautiful spots.  Take a walk through Charter Oak Landing, enjoy the uniquely styled sukkot created by local and regional artists, have a picnic, dance, etc. Exhibit open Friday, October 7, 2011 and runs through Thursday, October 27, 2011. This event will take place at Charter Oak Landing, 50 Reserve Road, Hartford, CT.

ONGOING EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES

REKINDLE SHABBAT

  • Through November 1st, 2011 – Sign Up for Rekindle Shabbat!   This program offers free kosher catered Shabbat dinners to Jewish and interfaith families in the Pioneer Valley with school-age children to share with one or more other families.  Meal dates this year are Jan 20 and March 2.  Learn more and register at www.RekindleShabbat.org.

PJ LIBRARY

  • The PJ Library (PJ for pajamas) provides families with high-quality children’s books, music, and other resources that foster Jewish learning and create a gateway for deeper engagement in Jewish life. Free for participating families in our region, the program is open to children ages six months through age eight. The PJ Library is sponsored locally by the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and the HGF and administered by the two federations serving the entire region. Become a PJ Library family online. Sign Up here.

JEWISH FAMILY JAM

  • Jewish Family Jam with Felicia Sloin. Jewish Jam is for infants, toddlers and their caregivers. Appropriate for ages 0-3. Together we will sing, drum and dance our way through the Jewish cycles and explore musical play and rituals that your family can enjoy together. Wednesday beginning September 14, 2011 at 10:30-11:15 a.m. Lander Grinspoon Academy Library.  257 Prospect Street Northampton, MA. Registration: Pre-registration is required. To register by e-mail, contact JewishLife@jfswm.org; to register by telephone, please call (413) 737-2601.($)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Meltzer

Amy is a Kindergarten teacher at Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, MA, and the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door, and The Shabbat Princess. She writes the blog Homeshuling for Beliefnet, and a monthly column for the Jewish parenting site Kveller.com. Amy lives in Northampton, MA with her husband and two daughters.

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