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Mon October 17, 2011
Prof. Dana Washington, Lock Haven University -Sukkot and Thanksgiving
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Professor Dana Washington of Lock Haven University explains the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot as compared with American Thanksgiving and other cultural analogs around the world.
Dana Washington is an assistant professor of English at Lock Haven University, where she teaches writing and literature, and co-advises the art and literary magazine. As a member of one of many groups of Americans that live with two calendars and twice the holidays, she especially enjoys learning from her students about the ways their heritages enrich their lives: Americans celebrating traditions of all sorts, and international students sharing their home traditions while discovering the universality of the reasons behind them.
Prof. Dana Washington -Sukkot and Thanksgiving
At the end of an e-mail message this September, an international student told me that it was Korean Thanksgiving that weekend. As I wrote back and wished him a happy holiday, I began thinking about another Thanksgiving I have celebrated all my life, the one that falls almost two months in advance of American Thanksgiving.
Sukkot, or Sukkas, celebrated on the fifteenth day of the month of Tishri, is one of the three traditional pilgrimage festivals that required Jews in Biblical times to travel to Jerusalem. Over time, it became a celebration of the harvest, and later, a commemoration of the ancient Hebrews' wandering for forty years in the desert.
The eight-day holiday is known in English as the Festival of Booths sukkot which begins this year on October 12. Mayflower historian Caleb Johnson suggests that the Pilgrims, looking for a biblical reference that would allow a day of thanksgiving, found it in Sukkot.
Every Sukkot, many Jews spend time in a sukkah, a temporary shelter with a roof of greenery which must allow rain and starlight to pass through. In suburban New York, my congregation used evergreen boughs; in north Louisiana, bamboo; and in central Pennsylvania, some of us use cornstalks. The walls are decorated inside with fruit and vegetables hung from the beams. Shaking a lulav made of three types of branches and sniffing a fragrant citron are worship practices unique to Sukkot.
My student's note reminded me that many cultures set aside a day to express gratitude as a community, or to at least be mindful of the harvests that sustain us and the roots from which we came; we are all dependent on the bounty of the earth. To all those fortunate enough to celebrate such a day twice every year, l'chaim.