If you don’t know anything about Israel and Jewish life, it’s best to not come around the holiday of Sukkot. You would get a very strange idea of how we live here. We go to synagogue bringing bundles of branches and leaves and a box protecting an abnormally large citrus (a cedar, as big as a big pomegranate, to stay with seasonal fruit). We then take out the cedar, and try to hold it together with the mentioned bundle of branches and leaves in one hand, and, to the astonishment of the visitors, we start an awkward dance while shaking the whole thing (called “Lulav”) in a mysterious circular arabesque and chant a song that sounds much like an old Indian tune. Right, that’s the Hoshanot seen from the women section – and the best we can do is hope that no cedar will roll on the floor before the end of the ceremony, otherwise, who knows, we may have to start from the beginning again.
And that’s not over. For one week, we build and happily populate during meals and evenings thin structures called Sukka, something between a camping tent with a chopped top, and a children house on the ground instead of up on a tree. The thing that we must see the sky when sitting in the Sukka is a beautifully romantic touch. Because in life, the whole point in being “inside”, in a protected space, is that you do not see the sky. So that you are protected against sun, wind and rain. During Sukkot, we deliberately renounce to that protection, and we choose instead to sit, eat and some people even sleep, in a non-house, with no ceiling. But we put the cedar in a box in order to keep it safe – even though its task is only to be the perfumed addition to the Lulav.
To sum it up, we pick something that smells good and has no reason to exist without the rest of the branches, and we protect it, instead of ourselves. This must have a number of deep and enlightening explanations, but I prefer thinking about the delicious marmalade after Sukkot, when the cedar finally loses its protective box and moves straight to my kitchen. “Who by fire.. who by knife…”.
*Daniela Fubini (Twitter @d_fubini) lives and writes in Tel Aviv, where she arrived in 2008 from Turin via New York.