By Alexis Jade Ferguson
Every year, Bonita Vista High School’s Haverim Club participates in a traditional Jewish celebration known as Sukkot, which falls right after Rosh Hashanah (the New Year’s) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). Rabbi Daniel Srugo comes to welcome students into a sukkah, or a hut made from bamboo posts, that he builds at the edge of the parking lot. It is said that during biblical times, the ancient Hebrews would live in this sukkah for seven days after having crossed the desert from Egypt to Israel.
“It’s the feast of the tabernacle and basically what you do is you invite people to something called a sukkah, which is a temporary housing structure. It’s a harvest time and especially in Israel, we celebrate the harvest by eating outside and children will decorate the sukkah with palm leaves and they would hang fruit and you would have your meal in the moonlight,” Haverim Club Advisor Jennifer Ekstein said.
During this religious ceremony, Srugo takes a lulav, a closed frond of the date palm tree, and an etrog, a fruit similar to a lemon, in his hand. He then will bless his companions and invite them to ushpizin, the Hebrew word for welcoming people into your home. The Four Species in Judaism aside from the lulav include a variety of other parts of the scented plant such as the myrtle, willow, and citron. Taken together, they represent the spine, eye, mouth, and heart.
“Not only is it tradition for Jewish people to build their sukkah and celebrate our ancestry and our history, but it is also a time to invite guests and meet with other groups—people who are even not Jewish. It is just a gathering, a socialization of people who get to know neighbors by building a sense of community,” Ekstein said.
Haverim Club President Marcos Saade emphasizes the importance of the Jewish community in connecting students with parallel religious values and shaping them into the people they are today. Sukkot is just one of the holidays he celebrates to get in better touch with his spiritual self.
“I like being part of the Jewish community because it is a religion that gives you values to live with your whole life. It is an everyday lifestyle and teaches you to live life in a positive manner,” Saade said. “Sukkot today was a nice opportunity to celebrate this holiday with friends, with other people in the club that share similar beliefs and values as I do.”
Going around in a circle, Srugo hands the lulav and etrog to each individual and then directs them to say a prayer before proceeding in shaking the etrog in their hand. Then, as a group, they all emerge from the shade of the sukkah into the sunlight and engage in a “feast,” or in this case cookies and other treats to suffice.
“It is about looking at different perspectives, cultures, and religions beside the main ones. It is important that people are culturally diverse. Especially as an IB [International Baccalaureate] school, it is just one of the ways to be involved and learning about the Jewish way of life,” Ekstein said.
Although the recent Sukkot celebration was less than a public affair, all the students that participated had similar motivations in mind. At such a sensitive stage in life, many teenagers tend to stray away from their religion, according to Srogo, and gathering together is just one of the ways to help them reconnect with their cultural heritage and community.
“The beauty in life is when we are all together, that we care about each other very much regardless of how we think, how we look, or how we act. At the end of the day we know where we came from,” Srogo said. “We are all a very big family—making us more diversified and thus more beautiful.”