Sukkah Guests

Tonight we begin the Festival of Sukkot, our Fall Harvest Extravaganza!  In our day and time this is a most overlooked by liberal Jews.  With so much emphasis on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the rest of the High Holy Days- Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Simchat Torah are often passed by.  In the ancient days this festival was known as THE FESTIVAL.  Even though Passover and Shavuot are also Festivals, Sukkot was widely celebrated and very important.

I particularly love Sukkot in contrast with Yom Kippur.  Yom Kippur is introspective and a fast day.  Sukkot is a week of welcoming everyone to your table for feasting. It is the ultimate dinner party holiday.  Not Passover but Sukkot is a week of entertaining in the Sukkah, welcoming family and friends and even our ancestors through the ancient ceremony of Ushpizin.

Ushpizin is an Aramaic word for guests.  We welcome not only real guests into the hospitality of our Sukkah but ancient guests. Traditionally each of the days of Sukkot we welcome the soul of a different ancestor beginning on the first night with Abraham, second night, Isaac, third night Jacob, fourth night Moses,  fifth night Aaron, sixth night Joseph, and seventh night King David!  Each of these seven leaders of our people are present each night but one leader is highlighted. According to the Zohar, Emor 103a, their souls  actually leave Gan Eden to partake in the Divine light of the earthly Sukkot.

This welcoming of the Ushpizin is a very mystical custom. Several Jewish mystical texts explain that each of the seven Ushpizin correspond to a fundamental spiritual pathway (sefirah) through which the world is metaphysically nourished and perfected (Derech Hashem 3:2:5, Zohar Chadash, Toldot 26c; cf. Zohar 2:256a).

Abraham represents love and kindness (Chesed); Isaac represents restraint and personal strength (Gevurah). Jacob represents beauty and truth (Tifferet). Moses represents eternality and dominance through Torah (Netzach)  Aaron represents empathy and receptivity to divine splendor (Hod)Joseph represents holiness and the spiritual foundation (Yesod) David represents the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven on Earth (Malchut).

In the period of counting the Omer between Passover and Shavuot, each week is dedicated to one of these same sefirot but each characteristic of the Tree of Life appears in every week.  Just as each guest representing one of the sefirot is welcomed into the sukkah on a particular day as the leader but all are present every day!

In our day and time it is also customary to welcome Ushpiziot , women leaders of our people including, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel &Leah, Miriam, Hulda, Devorah and Esther.

Come into the Sukkah at Temple this week. Bring you lunch during the day, or one of the many events in the Sukkah this week.  Your ancestors await you!




Sukkot Reflections

This week we are celebrating the wonderful and joyous holiday of Sukkot.  I personally love Sukkot.  It is a chance to enjoy meals with friends while dining al fresco in the Sukkah! Could there be anything more glorious than dining outdoors? 

The themes of this holy week are the abundance of the fall harvest and the abundance in our lives.  We are to give glorious thanks to God for surviving the hard Ten Days of Awe ending with Yom Kippur.  We spent that time in introspection.  We spent that period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur focused on our inner changes that need to be made. But Sukkot focuses on the simple pleasures and joy of a good meal with friends and thank God for being alive!  These are holy days for finding our place in nature and breathing deeply of life and family and friends and gladness!

The Sukkah literally represents the glory of God! The Israelites were protected by the cloud of Divine Glory during their trek toward freedom in the wilderness of Sinai.  The cloud of Glory was God’s literal embrace of warmth and safety from the elements. We decorate the Sukkah as a reminder of that glorious protection.  Even though the sukkah is a fragile and temporary dwelling we are reminded that the Cloud of Glory was just that a cloud.  It hid us from enemies, refreshed the warm air, but it withdrew when we were not encamped and traveling on our journey.

During Yom Kippur I talked about acts of Lovingkindess, acts of Chesed that we could do for one another and the world.  I mentioned several things that you could do immediately.  One was continue to bring canned goods and toiletries to our Congregation for Sova. We had to make two trips to bring all of the foodstuffs back to Kol Ami from our worship site! So we are off to a good start. But the barrels are here ready to receive every single day.  Make it a habit to bring something for Sova every time you come to temple for a class, for a meeting, for worship!

Secondly I mentioned Food Forward. This is a group that has spoken at Kol Ami services before.  Food Forward helps you harvest the many fruit trees that dot Los Angeles area homes and brings that fruit to food banks all over town.  I have arranged for them to pick my Persimmon tree and when the citrus is ready they will come to my home and pick that as well.  If you have fruit trees in your yard that are producing or will in their proper season, consider connecting with Food Forward as an act of Chesed. The link to their website is

Also a great organization that distributes funds world-wide is the Global Hunger Foundation.  Started by our Temple member Eric Schockman, this is a group that is making a difference on the ground. Recently,  they gave a $10,000 dollar grant right here in Los Angeles to Homegirls for their organic gardening used in their cafe so that Latinas in East LA can break the chain of poverty.  If you want to connect with the Global Hunger Foundation here is how to do so:

Let the bounty of the Fall Harvest and the bounty of your life be part of the gratitude o

Getting to the heart of the matter

This is the first week without a Jewish holiday other than Shabbat!  The whirlwind of Tishrei holy days is now behind us for this year.  I hope that the good feelings and thoughtful reflections that you had during the Holy Day Season will remain with you and most importantly inspire you to a new way of being this year.  From Rosh Hashanah until Simchat Torah our cycle of holidays takes us on a journey from the deepest soul work of reflection, forgiveness, repentance and atonement to the soul work of celebrating and rejoicing with family and friends the abundance that really is ours.  We can only really celebrate the heights Sukkot when we have explored the depths of our own transgressions.  And now we must try and return to the pace of our regular lives.

But we aren’t just to return to the regular pace–we are changed! And that my friends is what the hope is for this time of year. That you can readjust back to your daily regime but that you can do it differently, keeping the promises you made in Temple to God and yourself.  Appreciating the family and friends you welcomed into the Sukkah.  Taking the resolutions you made for the New Year of 5772 and making them stick!

So on with the task at hand.   I hope to see you soon.

The Abundance of Life-give thanks

Shabbat Sukkot is a double dose of joy! Sukkot is known as “zman simchateinu” -season of our rejoicing.  On this holiday we celebrate the abundance in our lives.  Even as the occupy Wall Street folks protest the corporate greed of the 1% we Americans enjoy a standard of living so far above many parts of the world that in their eyes even the poor in America are better off than many in developing nations. This is not to compare tragedies at all. But Sukkot is a time following the inner soul searching of Rosh Hashnah and Yom Kippur to realize that our lives our indeed rich.  Not rich in the sense of materialism. After all we are commanded to dwell in simple huts without the creature comforts we are used to. We are to eat and even sleep in the Sukkah.  This holiday is to remind us of the abundance that flows through us called life itself! And truthfully for us urban dwellers, the chance to be in a Sukkah, outside is a way to re-adjust our rhythm and tune it to the cycle of nature.  What is the harvest we reap?  After Yom Kippur the Harvest we reap are those in are family and friendship circles that we spend time with; that we give thanks for; that we welcome to our Sukkah along with our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, King David and Queen Esther.

Yes, this is a season of joy. It is a season of rejoicing. Tell those you love-that you love them.  And give thanks for the abundant flow of life that still is in you.

Life is as Fragile as a Sukkah


Rabbi  Denise L. Eger


We have just finished the sacred journey from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur through the Ten Days of Repentance.  We have moved from Yom Terurah and Yom HaDin, Day of Sounding the Shofar and Day of Judgment to the Day of Atonement.  As the gates of heaven closed at the final service on Yom Kippur, at Neilah, we were cleansed of our sins and errors and transgressions as we pledged to do better for this New Year. We have tried to make amends. We have asked for forgiveness and hopefully we have forgiven ourselves as well.

Sukkot comes four days later to help us celebrate the bounty of our lives. Perhaps we recognize this from our experiences during Yom Kippur.  But the fall harvest festival teaches us some profound truths that continue our learning and spiritual growth from our renewal and purification at the High Holy Days.

Sukkot-the feast of Tabernacles/Booths reminds us that we have so much to be grateful for especially following the rebirth we have experienced from Yom Kippur.  And even though we also give thanks for the bounty of the fields, we give many thanks for the richness of our lives.  We give thanks at Sukkot for our ancestors through the custom of welcoming the Ushpizin to the Sukkah.

We sit in the Sukkah. We eat there. We are to even sleep there.  We do so with the appreciation that the temporary shelter is fragile as is life. A message we should have also learned on Yom Kippur-that life is fragile.

This message is further reinforced in the obligation to rejoice not just with family and friends in the Sukkah but one must provide for the poor, the widow and the orphan. Maimonides reminds us in the Mishneh Torah, the Laws of the Festival : “While eating and drinking himself, one is obligated to feed the stranger, orphan, and widow, along with the other unfortunate poor… [One who does not] is not enjoying a mitzvah, but rather his stomach”   We are reminded by taking care of those who don’t have that life is fragile for them as well as for us.  So be grateful for what you have.

In these days especially when there are so many who have been impoverished let’s make sure that our festive rejoicing during this week of Sukkot is not just for ourselves alone. But let’s make sure that we always consider and help and invite those who don’t have to share in the bounty of our sukkah!

I hope to see you at one of the many Sukkot celebrations at Kol Ami this coming week-either for festival services tonight at 7 pm, Shabbat Sukkot on Friday at 8 pm, WOKA Sukkot luncheon on Saturday or the Kol Atid brunch on Sunday or the Moka dinner in the Sukkah on Tuesday! And of course this culminates in the celebration of Simchat Torah on Wednesday, Oct 19 at 7 pm.

Chag Sameach.

Sukkot Yummies


Rabbi Denise L. Eger

This week we celebrate Sukkot the fall harvest festival beginning on Wednesday evening, September 22. Today is the first full day of the holy day.

On the fifteenth of the seventh month (shall be the holiday of Sukkot, seven days for the God . The first day shall be a holy convocation; all manners of work you shall not do; it is an eternal decree in all of your dwelling places for all generations” (Leviticus 23:34-35).

This most holy Festival was for our ancestors the ultimate celebration of the year.  Not Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but the gathering in Jerusalem for the Fall harvest celebration was the highlight.   And I think their ancient wisdom was right on the mark.

While the Jewish New Year and solemn spiritual inward journey of the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur are critical and important, the festival of Sukkot really is the culmination of that journey.  But all too often we contemporary Jews check out with the close of the Neilah service as the sun sets on Yom Kippur.

The beauty and rejoicing found in the holy days of Sukkot complete the spiritual journey begun on the 1st of Tishrei.  By welcoming community and one another to our Sukkah, we can relish in the renewed relationships that we tried to heal over the Ten days of Repentance.  We can reflect and give thanks, deep thanks for the inscription in the Book of Life. As we relish the bounty of the earth in the form of the harvest, we have a chance to give thanks for the bounty and abundance in our lives.

Sukkot is really a holiday of entertaining.  It is the schmooze and hang out holiday!  How sad that most folks just don’t even bother.   This is a holy day week of great meals, great recipes and visiting.  Even as we wave the lulav and etrog, we are supposed to eat every meal in the Sukkah and here in Southern California that is truly possible!  For those of you that are foodies, this is your holiday!  The recipes of this holy day also include the seven kinds of native fruits and vegetables of the Land of Israel mentioned in the Torah.  These are known as the seven species and help tie us closer to the land of our ancestors. The seven species are:

  1. Wheat
  2. Barley
  3. Grapes
  4. Figs
  5. Pomegranates
  6. Olives
  7. Date

The Talmud teaches us that it was these seven items that could be brought to the Temple as the first fruits of the harvest.

So I hope you will take some time this week to reflect on the abundance in your life.  The gifts you have been given. And if you haven’t built your own sukkah (try it there are many kits available to make it easy!) come eat in the Temple sukkah this week. Dining al fresco makes all the food tastier!   Here is a Sukkot recipe you might try that includes ingredients of the seven species.

7 Species Salad (Salat Shivat HaMinim)
Source: Janglo
Serves: Varies

Lettuce, (any kind, but baby lettuce is good)
Seeds from 1/2 to 1 ripe pomegranate
6 to 8 figs, quartered
Handful of seedless (or deseeded) grapes, halved or quartered
2 to 4 dates, sliced
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar (this gets the olives in, the Torah specifically mentions oil olives so, in theory this could also count for the grapes)
Barley and wheat croutons

Goat cheese
Bee or date honey (to get the eretz zavat chalav u’dvash element)

To make the croutons, bread (preferably sliced) that has both wheat and barley flour and cut in to bite-sized pieces and place on a baking tray or casserole dish.

In a bowl, combine olive oil and some favorite spices, oregano, basil, and/or thyme. Brush the oil and herb mixture over the bread pieces and bake at 400°F to 450°F until the bread feels like croutons.

One can also skip the olive oil and herbs on the croutons and just bake the bread.

Combine everything and enjoy!

If you make a bunch of croutons and buy the supplies, you can put the salad together several times throughout the chag.

This recipe was posted on Janglo, which is the Jerusalem Anglo website and newsletter!   I wish you all a very happy Sukkot filled with friends, bounty and rejoicing.