Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Joy! Joy! Joy! As I write these words we’re about to enter into Sukkot – also known as Season Of Our Rejoicing. As we read in Torah, “וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֖ בְּחַגֶּ֑ךָ… וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ” – “You shall rejoice in your festivals, and you shall have nothing but joy.”

A dandelion at the center of the word "Joy."

Sukkot is the culmination of the two-month spiritual journey that we began at Tisha b’Av, when we remembered the Temples’ destruction and sat with communal grief. From there, we climbed the seven-week ladder to Rosh Hashanah; brought in a new year with prayer and song; and gathered to spend a day in the holy work of at/onement. And four days after Yom Kippur we start Sukkot: a harvest festival, a celebration of impermanence, pulling us out of our houses and into the indoor-outdoors of our sukkot in the beautiful Berkshire autumn.

(Sukkot’s seven days begin at sundown on Friday, September 29. In Reform practice the festival lasts for a week, bookended this year with two Shabbats; at the end we’ll celebrate Shemini Atzeret, “The Pause of the 8th Day,” followed by Simchat Torah, “Rejoicing in the Torah.”)

The primary mitzvah of Sukkot is to rejoice in the sukkah.* And CBI’s sukkah is open to you all week long. Bring your morning coffee, bring a picnic, bring a sleeping bag, come stargaze through the (required) gaps in the roof. (A sukkah must be a temporary dwelling, with a roof made of organic matter like cornstalks or palm fronds, present enough to look like a roof but absent enough to let the Sukkot full moon shine through.) Deep thanks to Jen Burt and her whole family for once again helping us build and decorate our sukkah for communal use.

In addition to just having the sukkah open and available all week long there will also be several communal Sukkot celebrations: our Harvest Moon Sukkot Potluck & Bonfire Songfest (Friday, September 29), Sukkot Festival Shabbat services led by R. Pam Wax (Saturday, September 30), a Family Musical Jam & Sukkah (Lunchtime) Potluck (Sunday, October 1 – not at the CBI sukkah but at a home sukkah; contact R. Jarah Greenfield at [email protected] to RSVP), Shemini Atzeret & Yizkor services (Saturday, October 7), and our Simchat Torah Dance Party with Joe Alpar and his band (also Saturday, October 7).

We haven’t done much for Simchat Torah in recent years, so I’m especially excited about that celebration. At 5pm on Saturday, October 7, kids (and their families) are invited to convene for a Torah-related craft project. Starting at 5:30pm, all ages are welcome for vegetarian Indonesian-inspired small bites provided by Bondhu, followed by a dance party with a live band at 6pm. Led by visiting Rabbi Lee Moore we’ll dance the Torah around the room seven times. No particular knowledge or dancing skill required: just readiness to celebrate the Torah and celebrate with the Torah and enjoy sweet community time. I’m extra-grateful to R. Jarah Greenfield, Shira Kol, and our partners at NEFESH for collaborating on this celebration.

At Simchat Torah, we transition seamlessly from the end of Torah to the beginning. I love this practice. The flow of time and seasons never ends. Our human journey of becoming never ends. And in this way our Torah story never ends. The end takes us to the beginning again: the beginning of our story, the beginning of creation, the beginning of a new Jewish year.

Here’s one of my favorite tiny teachings arising out of that. The last letter of the Torah is lamed / ל. The first letter is bet / ב. Together they spell lev / לב / heart. As we re/turn our story from end to beginning again, we rediscover the deep core of Torah: a heart filled with love.

For me, Sukkot – Season of Our Rejoicing – feels like an extra dollop of blessing at the end of this action-packed two-month journey of spirit, heart, and soul. After all of our copious words and songs and prayers (and I love them all!) now we get to just be – to sit in the sukkah, to breathe the autumn air, to rejoice in the spiritual harvest of the old year and prepare to begin anew.

Wishing you joy now and always,

— Rabbi Rachel

* If you are feeling sorrow or grief at this time, and the prospect of rejoicing in the sukkah feels implausible to you, you are not alone. See Sitting with Sorrow in the Sukkah. I’m here to listen if you need to talk.