By: Ryan Lents, Center for Interfaith Engagement Intern
Earlier this month, Jewish congregations throughout Chicago and around the world marked the harvest festival of Sukkot. The holiday, which begins five days after Yom Kippur and lasts for seven days, commemorates the forty-year period that the Israelites were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. In honor of the holiday’s historical significance, Jewish families and communities each create their own “sukkah,” a booth covered with plant materials and decorated with vegetables from the harvest season.
Niagara was pleased to celebrate the Sukkot holiday in partnership with KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, Moishe House – Rogers Park, and Mishkan Chicago for two wonderful interfaith gatherings, all constituting the first annual Sharing the Faith: Sukkot!
On Friday, October 10th, Niagara joined KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park/Kenwood for their annual Fall Harvest Dinner and Sukkot Shabbat Service. Upon arriving, guests were greeted by community members and an aroma of baked chicken, roasted potatoes, couscous, beans, rice, and other delicious foods. After a few words of welcome from Rabbi Frederick Reeves, everyone helped themselves at the buffet and the room quickly filled with the sound of conversation and laughter.
As the meal concluded, the attendees transitioned to the Sukkot Shabbat Service. The congregants graciously guided the guests through the service, which included prayers, readings from the Torah, and beautiful songs led by Cantor David Berger. Rabbi Reeves spoke eloquently about the importance of Sukkot – the impermanence of the sukkah is meant to remind us of the brevity of our own lives, to slow down, and to trust in the shelter of God’s care.
The evening ended with everyone enjoying a bit of “nosh” in the sukkah outside. Despite the chill in the autumn evening air, the warmth of the people and the glow of the stringed lights made the sukkah most inviting!
On the following Wednesday, October 15th, Niagara teamed up with Moishe House – Rogers Park and Mishkan Chicago for Sleepless in the Sukkah: A Dinner Conversation on Homelessness and Sukkot. About 30 young adults from throughout the city descended upon the lovely Rogers Park home for the event, and after filling plates and making introductions settled in for an evening of conversation on homelessness in the context of Sukkot.
Eleanor Mulshine, our primary facilitator for the evening, invited guests to break into pairs or small groups to discuss an article by Rabbi Jill Jacobs about Judaism and homelessness. The text spurred a great deal of dialogue and reflection – several guests were struck by the emphasis in Jewish law on alleviating homelessness over traditional practices like fasting and ritual.
The program ended with the arba minim or “four species” blessing, which comes from the book of Leviticus command to “take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree and brook willows, and you will rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” (Leviticus 23:40). The plants are waved in every direction as a reminder that God is everywhere.
Niagara is truly grateful for the communities of KAM Isaiah Israel, Moishe House – Rogers Park and Mishkan Chicago for their warm hospitality and partnership. We look forward to continuing our Sharing the Faith series in Spring 2015 with the Christian holiday of Easter!
Sharing the Faith is an educational program offering opportunities for the larger Chicago community to learn about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam during their respective sacred seasons. By collaborating with local parishes, congregations, and communities, Niagara strives to create programs that are both nourishing for the respective community and for a larger interfaith audience. Our goal: to raise literacy of each of the Abrahamic faiths, create safe spaces/experiences for reflection, and respectfully showcase each tradition in its unique Chicago flavor.