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 (Sue - like your friend - coat - like your coat) = Booths

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks of Jewish holidays, but they aint over yet! We’re running the final laps with a few more holidays: the 3 S’s - Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

S1: Sukkot
Sukkot (Sue - like your friend - coat - like your coat)
S2: Shimini Atzeret
Shimini (Shh-meanie - like the bitchy girl in 8th grade)
Atzeret (Ah-ts-err-et - we couldn’t think of anything funny here, it’s just like it sounds)
S3: Simchat Torah
Simchat (Sim - like the card in your cell phone - ch - make the scratchy throat sound - aht)
Torah (we hope by now you know how to pronounce this bestseller)
We’ll give you the low-down on Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah next week, but first, S1: Sukkot.
Most of us know the Biblical story about the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years after they escaped slavery in Egypt until they reached the “Promised Land” of Israel. What you might not know is that they weren’t quite wandering, but rather traversing the desert, and the Big Guy accompanied them on their journey. Miraculous clouds hovered over them and shielded them from the D’s: Difficulties, Discomforts, and Dangers in the Desert. (We love alliterations this week!) On Sukkot, we recall that miraculous cloud of protection by building a makeshift, temporary hut called a Sukkah (Sue – your girlfriend, again – kah). Confusion Alert: Sukkot is the holiday, Sukkah is the temporary-hut, the plural of Sukkah is Sukkot – and they all mean “booths”! So, on Sukkot we build Sukkot. Get it?
Sukkot is a joy-filled holiday so it’s also known as Z’man (zzz-mahn) Simchateinu (sim-chat-tey-noo), which means Time of our Rejoicing. Sukkot started on September 28 and goes through October 4. Log on to Pinterest stat because, on Sukkot, we deck the halls with boughs of holly. We’re not kidding; it’s a custom to decorate a Sukkah. Typically, a Sukkah’s décor is in autumnal or harvest themes, which is great this year because the fall runways are all about jewel tones. Go decorating wild! Think Upscale Desert: Modern Morocco with low seating. Urban Chic: Mismatched throw pillows and canning jars as wine glasses. Suburbia Picnic: Red and white checkered tablecloths, citronella candles, your kids’ art projects from last school year. Anything goes! You can even deck the Sukkah halls with boughs of holly!
There’s a verse in the Torah that reads: “You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths. (Google it: Leviticus, chapter 23: verse 42) You ask: Really, for seven days and nights we’re supposed to eat and sleep in a makeshift tent? We know, SKINNIES: We don’t camp either! So improvise! Glamping works as does alfresco Sukkah dining. Or think of it as a metaphor: We’ve all had times when we’ve felt like the Israelites on a seemingly endless journey in a dangerous, symbolic desert with no end in sight. And, in that desert-storm, we had the comforting tent-like support of a friend or loved one along the way. The Sukkah is a symbol for that comforting shelter. What’s your metaphoric shelter that keeps you safe in the wilderness?
Another observance on Sukkot involves taking 4 plants that are mentioned in the Torah and shaking them all about like the hokey-pokey. The verse in the Torah reads: “On the first day, you will take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree and brook willows, and you will rejoice before God for seven days (Google it: Leviticus, chapter 23: verse 40.) The 4 plants are called arbah (are-bah), which means 4, minim (me-neem), which means species or kinds. The arbah minim are:
  1. Etrog (eh-trog – like frog with a “t”), which is called a citron in English. It’s a citrus fruit similar to a lemon.
  2. A palm branch called a lulav (loo-love).
  3. Two willow branches called aravot (are-ah-vote).
  4. Three myrtle twigs called hadassim (ha-dah-seem).
We take the arbah minim in our hands (collectively referred to simply as the lulav and etrog), recite a blessing and, in a nod to God being everywhere, we wave them in all six directions: east, south, west, north, up, down. We know it sounds strange, but it’s crazy fun!
Some say the arbah minim represent different parts of our bodies. The long straight palm branch is the spine, a myrtle leaf is oval like our eyes, the willow leaf is shaped like our mouth, and the etrog represents our heart. Wisdom teaches that we should bring all parts of our body together to do good things in the world. We like to think that our lives are more whole and complete when we stand with a tall spine (Read: stand up for our convictions), see clearly with eyes, speak with integrity from our mouths, and hold goodness in our hearts. Another interpretation is that the arbah minim represent different types of Jews or people. Since the etrog has a sweet scent and taste, it represents people who are knowledgeable about Torah and who do good deeds. The palm branch has a tasty fruit (the date), but it doesn’t have a scent so it refers to those who are smarty-pants, but don’t help repair the world. The myrtle leaf has a strong scent, but no taste so it represents those who have little knowledge, but who do good things. And, the willow has no taste or scent. (You know where we’re going here…) It represents those who are not knowledgeable and who are definitely not goodie two-shoes. Who are you? Who do you aspire to be?
Anything yummy!

Anything warm - its cold out there! Dress in the theme of your Sukkah's decor.

In your Sukkah under the stars! A Sukkah can be any size so long as it’s large enough for you to get inside it! The Sukkah’s roof must be a covering, called s’chach (sss-cha-ch – double-duty on the throat clearing), which literally means a covering, but it’s actually more than that. S’chach must be something that grew from the ground (tree branches, palm fronds, sticks, corn stalks, bamboo reeds) and can’t be affixed or tied down to evoke that temporary makeshift feel. And the best part, for star-gazers and hobby-astrologists, it must be open enough so you can see the stars at night.

What to say depends who you are (or who you want to be):

The traditional holiday greeting for Ashkanazi Jews (those of central or eastern European descent) is Gut Yom Tov:
Gut (goot)
Yom (yome – bossy “e”)
Tov (tove – bossy “e)
It literally means Good Day Good. (We like that a lot!)

In Yiddish, the holiday greeting is mashed to sound more like Gut Yon Tiff:  
Gut (goot)
Yon (yawn)
Tiff (short for your friend, Tiffany)

Sephardic Jews (those of Spanish descent) prefer a greeting that comes from the Torah where the words Chag Sameach are used in the commandment that we should be happy on these holidays (Google it: Deuteronomy chapter 16: verse 14). It’s pronounced:
Chag (chh – clear your throat – ahg)
Sameach (sah - may - like the month – ach – throat clear)
Meaning Happy Holiday!

Some Jews also say, Moadim L’Simcha:
Moadim (moe-a-deem)
L’simcha (L’-seem-cha – yep, clear your throat again)
It delightfully means Holidays for Happiness(Insert: smiley face emoticon!)

SKINNY friend of ours tells a funny story every Rosh HaShanah… She was living in Israel, but didn’t speak much Hebrew. During the holidays, people would greet her on the street with Chag Sameach or Gut Yon Tiff. She knew it meant something like, Happy Holidays, so she just kept responding with “Same to You!” in her basic Hebrew. One day, she got a phone call from her Hebrew tutor confirming their meeting at her apartment. Her tutor ended the phone call with: Esrey Hamavassar and our friend responded in her best Hebrew with: Same to you! There was a long pause before her tutor said: Esrey Hamavassar isn’t a greeting. It’s your address!

So, in honor of Sukkot and our SKINNY friend: Moadim L’Simcha and Esrey Hamavassar!
Chapter 33 Verse 1 - Chapter 34 Verse 12

This week’s Torah reading is V’Zot (v-zote – like vote with a “z”) HaBerachah (ha-bear-ah-cha – throat clearing). It’s from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 33: verse 1 to chapter 34: verse 12. We also read additional Torah verses related to Sukkot that we mentioned earlier. In previous episodes, we learned that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt until Moses – who starts out as a reluctant CEO – leads them to freedom, only to traverse the desert for 40 years (giving us the holiday of Sukkot!) Some interpretations suggest that the Israelites were forced to dwell in the desert for 40 years before getting to the Promised Land so there wouldn’t be anyone alive who remembered the feeling of slavery. And, in what may seem like a cruel twist of fate, Moses, who was the Israelite’s fearless leader and God’s loyal servant, doesn’t get to go into the Promised Land either. In V’Zot Haberachah, we read about Moses giving blessings to the 12 tribes of Israel and then he high-tails it up Mount Nebo (located in what’s now Jordan) where he saw a glimpse of the Promised Land (Read: Land of Israel) from its summit. God shows Moses all of the Promised Land stretching as far as he can see and beyond, and then Moses dies somewhere on the summit. The Torah portion goes on to laud Moses for all he did for the people and there’s no Linkedin exaggeration going on: “There arose not a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face…and who did mighty and great things for all of Israel.” Moses would have had a lot of likes on Tinder. More on him in an upcoming SKINNY.


  • Where can you get arbah minim and how can you build a Sukkah when you live in a 3rd floor walk-up? Be creative! If you don’t have a lavish backyard with furnishings from Restoration Hardware, you can build a Sukkah on your balcony or porch.
  • Create a pop-up Sukkah for a few hours in your neighborhood park. Think of it like building a tree-fort, but less sturdy. 
  • You can buy a do-it-yourself Sukkah kit online: Sukkah Depot (seriously!) or The Sukkah Project
  • Many synagogues and Jewish Community Centers erect a public Sukkah for the community’s use. You can also purchase arbah minim online if you’re feeling a little shaky.


Sukkot: Back to Basics