After Yom Kippur, The Sukkah!

Yes, we have the solemnity of Yom Kippur still to go, and we will have a quiet meditative observance on Friday the 29th at Will & Glyn’s home at 7:00 PM.

Then, After Yom Kippur, the Sukkah!  We’ll have a festive “Sukkah Raising” for anyone who wishes to take part in the fun on Sunday, october 1st, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM, rain or shine! Refreshments will be served.

Sukkah at Dayenu
Sukkah in 2015

Our first Sukkah at RavenOak was on the side deck, which later became a roofed over screen porch.  That year several seminarians from the School of Theology came over to help with the raising.  Apparently the school administration felt that was not a helpful part of their “formation process,” so, no more seminarians! Last year we were delighted to have two youngsters – Elise and Lucas Carlson help out.  This past May they and their parents went back home to Prague.  So who will help with the Sukkah raising this year?  Will it be you?  Or will we do it by ourselves this year? ~ Will & Glyn

Sukkah last year, on the Good Earth:

What Is A Sukkah?

The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to in Jewish tradition as Z’man Simchateinu Z’mn Simchateinu (in Hebrew), the Season of our Rejoicing.

Sukkot is the last of the Shalosh R’galim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: religious and agricultural. In religious teaching, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif Chag Ha-Asif (in Hebrew), the Festival of Ingathering. In Humanistic Judaism, we emphasize the traditional, agricultural origin.

The word “Sukkot” means “booths,” and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday in memory of the period of wandering. The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is “Sue COAT,” but is often pronounced as in Yiddish, to rhyme with “BOOK us.” The name of the holiday is frequently translated “Feast of Tabernacles,” which, like many translations of Jewish terms, isn’t very useful. This translation is particularly misleading, because the word “tabernacle” in the Bible refers to the portable Sanctuary in the desert, a precursor to the Temple, called in Hebrew “mishkan.” The Hebrew word “sukkah” (plural: “sukkot”) refers to the temporary booths that people lived in, not to the Tabernacle.

Building a Sukkah

You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths. -Leviticus 23:42
In honor of the holiday’s religious origins, we are commanded to dwell in temporary shelters, as our ancestors did in the wilderness. The temporary shelter is referred to as a sukkah (which is the singular form of the plural word “sukkot”). Like the word sukkot, it can be pronounced like Sue-KAH, or to rhyme with Book-a.

The sukkah is great fun for the children. Building the sukkah each year satisfies the common childhood fantasy of building a fort, and dwelling in the sukkah satisfies a child’s desire to camp out in the backyard. The commandment to “dwell” in a sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one’s meals there; however, if the weather, climate, and one’s health permit, one should spend as much time in the sukkah as possible, including sleeping in it.

Building a Sukkahsukkah

A sukkah must have three or four, but at least at least two and a half walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind. Why two and a half walls? Look at the letters in the word “sukkah” (see the Hebrew letters above): one letter has four sides, one has three sides and one has two and a half sides. The “walls” of the sukkah do not have to be solid; canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable and quite common in the United States. A sukkah may be any size, so long as it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. The roof of the sukkah must be made of material referred to as sekhakh (literally, covering). To fulfill the commandment, sekhakh must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, or two-by-fours.  Sekhakh must be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in, and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so sparsely that more than ten inches is open at any point or that there is more light than shade. The sekhakh must be put on last. Note: You may put a water-proof cover over the top of the sukkah when it is raining to protect the contents of the sukkah, but you cannot use it as a sukkah while it is covered and you must remove the cover to fulfill the purpose of dwelling in a sukkah!

You can buy do-it-yourself sukkah from various sources online, or you can build your own.

It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. In the northeastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available at that time for the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Many families hang artwork drawn by the children on the walls. Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun family project, much like decorating the Christmas tree is for Christians.

So, if you’re not busy building your own Sukkah on October 1st, come on over and help us build ours!

Blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana

Why Do We Blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana?

Rosh-Hashanah-shofar

For every five Jews there are ten reasons for blowing the Shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana. The Orthodox have their reasons, the Conservatives have their reasons, the Reformed have their reasons, the Reconstructionists have their reasons. Everyone has their reasons! For Humanistic Judaism, Rosh Hashana is a time of looking backwards and looking forwards. Backwards at the year we have just finished, forward at the new year to come. A good time for reflection. A good time for commitment. And so there are a few reasons why we Humanistic Jews blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana.

1. Because our Ancestors blew the Shofar on Rosh Hashana!

The attitude of “We’ve always done it that way!” is not always helpful, we know. Clinging to the past can be a problem, if it gets us stuck there and prevents us from enjoying the present or moving into the future. But “Tradition” is not all bad! It helps us remember who we are, where we came from, and the generations who lived and died in this world so that we might also live and die, and pass on a heritage to generations yet to come.

In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra – and He spoke), our Ancestors proclaimed:

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying:
In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

and in the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar – in the Wilderness):

And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you

You want the chapter and verse for these proclamations? Better you should look it up yourself!

As our ancestors did before us, so we do, and so shall our children shall do after us. It is a way of remembering that we are Jews, and proclaiming that memory to the ages.

2. It is our Annual Alarm Clock!

From the end of the High Holidays to their beginning, we go through all the rest of the year about our business of living. And we do not always remember the important things. Especially, we may grow lax in the three principles of Rosh Hashana: Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah.

Teshuvah (Returning): A return to our true selves, an honest self-evaluation of the life we have lived during the past year.

Tefillah (Repentance): Being honest about our ethical failures, what can we do in the year ahead to improve?

Tzedakah (Charitable Giving): Giving of ourselves to others in need is a moral obligation, and by offering hope and healing to others, we ourselves become better persons.

Of course we intend to practice Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah every day of the year! But, sometimes we forget, sometimes we fall asleep. The Shofar is our alarm clock.

3. It Makes a lot of Noise!

The ending of the old year is a time of celebration! And what is a celebration without a lot of Noise? On The fourth of July we shoot off fireworks. On Decmeber 31, the civil New Year, we blow horns and employ noisemakers of all kinds. On Erev Rosh Hashana, we blow the Ram’s Horn! For our ancient Ancestors, back before our Jewish ones, all this noise on New Year’s Eve had another important purpose: to scare away any evil spirits that might slip into the world through the crack between the old year and the new. Could this be helpful today? Who knows? It couldn’t hurt!

4. It Honors the King!

Okay, today most of us do not have a king. But our Ancestors did. And whenever the King showed up, trumpets were blown. Today we blow the Shofar to honor what is regal in every human being!

5. The Primal Scream!

Some people say the Shofar sounds like a primal scream out of the depths of time. And they are right. It is the scream of humanity born of fear, hope, rage, joy – the eternal cry for meaning in this universe where we find ourselves.

You know, we could go on and on. Doubtless you know many other good reasons for blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, from announcing dinner is served, to reminding our neighbors there are Jews in the neighborhood, to simply “that’s what my family (or my congregation) always did.”

But most of all, it is to proclaim L’Shana Tovah: For A Good Year, a Sweet Year, a Year of Joy and Hope!

~ Walter William Melnyk
Rosh Hashana 5778

High Holiday Observances at Am HaHar

Rosh-Hashanah-shofar

Erev Rosh Hashana – Blow the Shofar & Potluck Supper
Wednesday, September 20th
6:00 PM – Gathering
6:30 PM – Blow the Shofar, and Dinner
Where? Sue’s House — RSVP Please

yom-kippur-holiday

Erev Yom Kippur – Quiet Meditations
Friday, September 29th
7:00 PM – Yarzheit Candle, Humanist Kaddish and Kol Nidre
Where? Will & Glyn’s House – RSVP Please

sukkah5

Sukkah Raising
Sunday, October 1st
1:00 – 3:00 PM – Sukkah Raising and Refreshments
Where? Will & Glyn’s House – RSVP Please

Sukkot-Greetings-2015

Sukkot Celebration
Wednesday, October 4th
Have a great Sukkot Celebration at Home!

Elul: The Month of Jewish Secular Humanism

Preparing for the High Holidays: How Do You Elul?

Elul ShofarRosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two of the most well-known days of the Jewish year. Much less famous is the month that precedes them, Elul, which is also considered a time of asking for forgiveness — though unlike the traditional High Holiday liturgy of repentance to God, Elul is when we ask forgiveness directly from the people in our lives who we’ve wronged.

For this reason, David Steiner suggested that Elul, which beings on August 21 this year, is “The Month of Jewish Secular Humanism.” He wrote:

While I appreciate that the Jewish calendar has a ten-day period set aside for personal accounting, I prefer the 29 days set aside for peace between hu/man and her fellow hu/man. This is the month…when we assign ourselves the task of making peace with the people in our lives. One might even say that since Elul precedes Tishrei [the month beginning with Rosh Hashanah], and 29 days are greater than 10, that Judaism puts greater significance on peace among people…. In other words, these are the days that Judaism has set aside for secular humanism, and our efforts — whether we believe in an immanent god or not — should be focused on humanity.

An activist and filmmaker, David Steiner was also studying to become a rabbi at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism when his life was tragically cut short this past December. The coming holiday season without him will no doubt be extremely difficult for his family and to those of us in the movement who knew and loved him.

We take some solace knowing that David’s ideas live on through his films and writing. And we hope that all of us remembering lost loved ones during the High Holidays can draw strength from being part of something larger than ourselves: a community of people that care for one another.

If you do not yet have a place to experience Humanistic High Holiday services, please click here to see times and locations where they are being offered in the U.S. and Canada.

Or join People of the Mountain for our Rosh Hashana celebration.  See details elsewhere on this site.

This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 20th.

God-Optional Judaism

A newly revised book of “Alternatives for Cultural Jews,” by Secular Humanistic Rabbi Judith Seid.

“God-Optional Judaism” is a wonderful, chock-full respource for families and individuals who want to find their place in the Jewish world without necessarily believing in God.  Funny, accessible, and open-minded, the book touches on key elements of Jewish history and philosophy, all of the major holidays (food recipes included!), and contemporary issue of intermarriage, education, conversion, feelings towards Israel, and spirituality.

Available through Jewish Currents:

Judaism God Optional

 

 

A Community for Secular Jews

Do you identify as Jewish but consider yourself non-religious?

Secular Humanistic Jews are interested in Jewish history and culture and in celebrating the traditional holidays and observing the rites of passage in a non-theistic way.

000hj2People of the Mountain – Am HaHar – is a small local Humanistic Jewish group in the Sewanee/Monteagle area. We meet together to celebrate the Jewish holidays, offer occasional educational opportunities (such as Challah baking) and support each other in living out our Jewish heritage. We are associated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism. You can find out more about us on our website, http://www.amhahar.com .

Perhaps we can be a home for you.

CONTACT US!