29/30 September 2023, 15 Tishrei 5784

Z’man Simchateinu

This is the festival that insists on joy – and I intend to grab it this year, when it’s so easy not to, from the cup of coffee inside the sukkah to the end of our flowering plants in our autumnal fading gardens, to the re-read of Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’ to the last few outdoor swims I can manage (I am not yet an all-year-round cold water swimmer!).

Sukkot, the next holiday of our HHDs, pulls us back to the corporal. Despite this festival calling on us to consider impermanence, fragility and temporary shelter, I am thinking of what lasts. Inspired by Paul Silver-Myer’s beautiful words on Yom Kippur, I am thinking of all those who stood inside the sukkah at Finchley Progressive Synagogue over these past 70 years. I am thinking of those who decorated and ate and squashed in for an outdoor service with the chill of Autumn and the wide night sky above. I am thinking of David Hoffman’s huge quantities of skach – the greenery for the roof and walls – which he and Ruth would always bring. I am thinking of Hilary Luder’s fairy lights and decoration. I am remembering years where we hung allotment harvests and years we have been rained out. I am thinking of last year’s car park sukkah that happily trapped many of us until festivities were finished. And this year Eti, Susanna, Annabel and Bobbie have returned to our traditional spot and made it ready for us this Friday. We will fill it with our waving of the Luluv and Etrog. The etrog is called pri etz hadar, “the fruit of a splendid tree” (or a goodly tree) and the scent of it lives up to its name. Exhausted you may be from the spiritual intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but the physicality of Sukkot has its place.

I am thinking of the first Sukkot celebration in the first building in 1963 – and how everyone managed and whether there are surviving photos recording the day.

I am remembering every year I sat in a sukkah, in other people’s before I constructed my own. Mine always have my drying pink hydrangea heads as decoration and some 1950’s vintage tea cloths from Israel adorning the walls. This year I have hangings from Zambia to add to the decor.

Although Sukkot is about tasting impermanence I’m thinking of longevity and where our sukkah will be when we have renewed our building and completed our renovations. It’s exciting and daunting and right.

See you on Friday evening,