Sukkot is the Jewish Thanksgiving. The word, meaning booths, refers to the tents or temporary dwellings of the ancient Israelites who wandered in the desert in search of the promised land.
Later, the shelters also were used as harvesters’ huts before the onset of winter. So Sukkot has become a pilgrimage and harvest festival, and a time to rejoice after the solemnity of the High Holy Days.
The sukkah is built to be sturdy enough not to easily collapse, but not so strong that it can withstand gale-force winds. Eating the festive meals with the moon light and stars shining through the roof make this holiday dramatic and symbolic. It is a special balance between exposure and shelter, precariousness and protection.
Creativity is the key when decorating a sukkah. The Talmud indicates that nuts, pomegranates and grape clusters were all hung from the roofs in ancient times. Rosh Hashanah cards, crafts and strings of cranberries and popcorn can adorn the walls. A collage-style poster with the names and pictures of family ancestors can be a beautiful focal and gathering point on one wall.
Foods served during Sukkot represent autumn and the spirit of “thanksgiving.” Menus are prepared as picnic fare that can be served outdoors at room temperature. Traditional dishes include stuffed and wrapped foods, symbolizing opulence, and strudel. Stuffed cabbage is traditional and well worth the effort. Today’s Sukkot tables often reflect healthy choices featuring ground turkey and vegetarian versions.
Even children can prepare this delicious easy strudel: Using a defrosted frozen or refrigerated pie crust, flatten the crust slightly with a rolling pin, “erasing” the decorative edge. Spread with a layer of room temperature jam and sprinkle with raisins, nuts, dried cherries and coconut. Sprinkle with some sugar/cinnamon. Roll up into long strips, tucking in sides. Place seam side down on a greased foil-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with a little beaten egg or milk and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon-sugar combination. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven until lightly browned. Cool thoroughly before slicing.
Ilene Spector is a local free-lance writer.