SPRING HILL — Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths, is perhaps the most jubilant holiday on the Jewish calendar.
At Temple Beth David, members began their seven-day celebration with a dinner on Wednesday. Guests are invited to a festival Sunday.
"It's an interesting transition from the High Holy Days into Sukkot," Rabbi Lenny Sarko said, "because Yom Kippur, being a Day of Atonement, tends to be a lot more on the serious side of life, and Sukkot, which happens five days after Yom Kippur is over, is one of the most joyful holidays. Judaism is very much about life and celebration and community. Sukkot is a very good example of that."
The holiday, one of three in which God commanded the children of Israel to assemble in the temple in Jerusalem, is primarily agricultural. It's a celebration of harvest and a time of thanksgiving. It is recognized by symbolic events, such as building booths reminiscent of the tents and tabernacles where Hebrews lived during their 40 years wandering after being freed from slavery in Egypt. The booths are used for sharing meals and providing hospitality to neighbors for seven days.
"There is actually a written mitzvah, a written prescription, to invite guests, regardless of their background, to come and celebrate with us, to come and have a meal in our sukkah (a single booth)," Sarko said. "It's called the season of our rejoicing, season of our happiness."
Dimensions for the booths vary. The sukkah built by the men of Temple Beth David is 15 feet wide by 18 feet long and about 10 feet high. It is open in the front so members and guests can enter.
"It literally is a shelter, a type of house or tent," Sarko said. "There are very specific instructions about the booths. They must have 2½ walls, and the roof needs to be covered with something organic that rain can come through — something where there's enough holes in between that you can see the stars through the roof."
In Israel, Jews may build booths on their balconies, porches and lawns, and literally live in them for seven days, Sarko said.
"The booths are put up outside," he said.
"The temple (in Spring Hill) put up one that will be available for people to see and use."
Decorating the sukkah began Wednesday evening and continued Friday evening at a special service.
"Typically, you will put up all sorts of hanging vegetables, like gourds and citrons and nice smelling fruits," Sarko said. "The kids decorate it with things they color, like paper chains. They'll bring them all week."
The temple members have been using the sukkah throughout the week to eat and to congregate, while welcoming visitors who come by. The booth is all about hospitality.
"It's available for people to come by and have a meal or just sit and get together," Sarko said. "It's beautiful in Florida this time of year."
A special Fall Harvest Festival is planned for the community from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday to visit the booth and enjoy Jewish festivities.
"This is for guests," Sarko said, "for people to schmooze and get to know each other."
The day will be educational as well as entertaining.
"The plays and things will kind of work around the sukkah," Sarko said, "but it's more of a chance for the public to get to know us a little better and realize that our doors are open and to understand more."
Events planned for the festival include games, a bounce house and puppet shows for the children, and storytellers for all ages. There will be music and Israeli dancing, with participation welcome from the audience, and lots of homemade Israeli-style and American foods. Menu items will include chopped liver, Mediterranean chicken, kibbeh, shish kebabs, sweet and sour meat and cabbage, hummus, kugel, hot dogs, hamburgers, apples and honey, and a variety of desserts and drinks.
Entrance to the festival and entertainment is free; food may be purchased.
Vendors will be on hand to display and sell their wares. They include custom jewelry, liquid candles, handmade soaps, olives and olive oil, children's handmade items, hand-sewn aprons, stained glass, paper crafts and journals, jams and jellies, cosmetics, gift baskets, an acupuncturist, cotton candy and snow cones.
There will also be a free movie at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"We're showing Ushpizan (Guests), which is an Israeli film, but it's really not a Jewish movie," Sarko said. "It's open to the public, and they would enjoy it."
Sarko said the temple had large crowds for the High Holy Days services, more than it has ever before had. He's hoping that will continue with Sukkot.
"This is just a very fun and happy and very hospitable festival," he said, "so we hope people will take our invitation seriously and come on down and join us for some celebration. That would be nice."