My love for the holiday Sukkot has only grown since I made aliyah six years ago. In a normal year, once all the hammers have stopped banging, the chains and twinkly lights and plastic fruits have been strung and feasts of stuffed foods are at the ready, the best part of Sukkot beings: sharing the holiday with friends and family. We invite guests to ooh and ahh over the blinged-out outdoor decor and look forward to the pleasure of visiting other people’s sukkahs all throughout the holidays. Sukkot has joy programmed into in its very bones as is evidenced by its alternate name, “Zman Simchatenu,” the time of our happiness.
When Sukkot fades, Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah happily steps right in. This holiday is known for its hakafot (circles) of frenzied dancing with sweaty hand-holding, sticky haired-children waving flags while holding half-eaten candy apples, the overlapping circles of simcha clinging to the Torah at their epicenter.
But this year, with Israel in “Lockdown, The Sequel” (and we know the sequel is never as good as the original), and with the world awash in the twin pandemics of disease and negativity, we are challenged to find joy and humor in this trying time. So much of what makes Sukkot joyful is our connection and closeness to others, hosting guests and celebrating together with parties and get-togethers. It won’t truly feel like sukkot without our community’s traditional sukkah hop, where hundreds of children drift from sukkah to sukkah on the first night of the holiday, sharing songs, skits or words of Torah, as they collect candy and memories from house to house.
The health issues and directives and the very nature of COVID-19 itself demand that we curtail so much of what makes these holidays special. For those of us with children at home, we have the added challenge of making an emotional treasure hunt in search of joy, humor and fun for our children, so we can salvage some of what makes Sukkot the memorable holiday that it is.
Covid-weary, our eyes now tend to gloss over the dry health campaigns imploring us to wear our masks, wash our hands, and keep distance. So many of us who did our best when COVID-19 first reared its hideous head are simply done.
And we face these realities as the numbers of ill keep rising:
- The only truly safe guests we can have this year are the invisible Ushpizin and Ushpizot, the spirits of our forebearers whom we invite in to visit our sukkot each night.
- We can’t gather safely in large numbers to eat and sukkah hop and celebrate together.
- Masks will continue to cover our smiles.
- We can’t safely join in hakafot where we dance together, palms and hearts linked as we celebrate the Torah which has survived so many other dark and treacherous times in our history.
Tired of feeling helpless, I approached my creative and talented friend, artist Yael Harris Resnick, and together we created a fun, family friendly health campaign of our very own, building on some “punny” artwork we posted (with the help of our friend Liron Kopinsky) for Rosh Hashana. We are attempting, in a way that we feel honors the playful spirit of this time of year, to encourage even the jaded lockdown alums among us to stay safe and remember that we can all work together to bring the alarming COVID-19 numbers down.
We hope you enjoy and share these posters, which can be downloaded for free here. You can print and hang them in your sukkahs and post in them in your communities, and they can ultimately can serve as sukkot “souvenirs” of this strange time.
So let’s lulav each other from afar…
Let’s keep up the hand washing….
Let’s celebrate Simchat Torah without the horah… (no ha-cough-ot!)…
And with our stiff upper lips, Let’s Keep Masks On and Carry Citron…
so that we can all dance and eat and laugh and hug and celebrate together in the future.