Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Living in Booths

Ring, ring.

"Hi. Green Raven here," I say, trying out my superhero name for the first time in the Green Phone Booth.

"Hi! This is Laura Ingallstein from Little House in the Shtetl. I've got your assignment for the week."

* * *

This mission requires me to transform my green superhero cape into an apron. It also requires the Green Phone Booth to become a sukkah. Luckily, this is not a difficult prestidigitation since the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is also called the Festival of Booths.

Ma Ingallstein Preparing the Evening Meal in the Family's Green Booth
(Who would have thought that Jews have been pioneers for millenia?)

* * *

Sukkot is my favorite holiday. For seven to nine days (depending on one's practice), Jews eat and sometimes sleep in a little open hut we build in our backyards. The roof must be made with natural materials such as leaves and branches, and openings must be left in the ceiling so we can see the stars and the light of the moon.

Religiously, Sukkot is a time of remembering when the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness without a permanent home after being freed from slavery. The famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides proposed that we build sukkahs every fall so we will always be reminded of times of misfortune (of being homeless) during our times of good fortune.

Sukkot is also a celebration of the "ingathering" (ie, the harvest) after a season of hard work in the fields. A holiday with roots which predate Judaism, Sukkot is a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving when we celebrate the reaping of the fruits of the season and our ability to share it with our friends and families.

Although the spiritual meanings of Sukkot mean a lot to many Jews, others of us who reject the religious mandates still find deep symbolism in its celebration. It is hard to miss that the times of misfortune are exactly the moments when we can most appreciate our riches. We relax around the table in our sukkah with all our loved ones seated around us and celebrate how much we have to sustain us: not only our full pantries but our full hearts.

* * *

No time seems more appropriate to me to enjoy my own contemporary family's labor in the field. Our own personal "field" is a tiny urban backyard garden which only produces enough to supplement our diet. But tonight, we've made dinner exclusively from what we grew ourselves.

We recently harvested Tiger Eye beans (which we allowed to dry on the vine)...

...and Mandan Bride corn:

My 9yo son and I had a blast today removing the kernels from the corncobs...

...and cranking them through our little grain mill to make cornmeal.

We then made traditional southern-style cornbread in a cast iron skillet.

Homegrown delicato squash (so sweet!) and a mix of greens including turnip and mustard rounded out our meal.

On the side we served pickles canned from our homegrown lemon cucumbers:

The meal--this final dinner of Sukkot--ended with cups of steaming tea made from spearmint, lemon verbena, and stevia, all of which we grew ourselves over the summer and dried.

There is something profound about living so simply yet so well. We built our little shelter with our own hands (and a power drill), we ourselves planted the seeds and watered the garden that fed us tonight, and we sang songs with our voices alone. All of this plain homemade evening was glorious. How fortunate we are!

* * *

I'm beginning to understand why Laura Ingallstein called me. It is becoming clear what the lessons of the hoe, the apron, and the sukkah are: gratitude for simple things, yes--but also the responsibility to work for tikkun olam (the healing of the world), and, perhaps most importantly, the awareness that we on this planet are all one family.

Sukkot connects us to the world: both the land which feeds us, and the friends who share that nourishment with us in our sukkahs. We sit in our fragile booths, shivering in the chilly evening breeze and hoping it won't rain--yet we rejoice in the abundance of our harvest.

Times may be hard, and they may become harder--but we have enough to celebrate; we have each other.

At the end of our evenings, we carry the china and the candles back into our warm houses and say goodnight to our friends.

But Sukkot is also the moment when we are called to think of--no, to empathize with--those people who have to live all their days exposed to the elements just as we are this week in our festival booths. This year--when so many people have been kicked out of their homes to live in their cars, crash on a friend's couch, or sleep on the streets--this lesson is more important than ever.

Regardless of our religious or cultural practices, Harvest Time is a moment when we must remember how many people--in this country and around the world--do not ever experience abundance. Instead, struggling people are going hungry every night, shivering as the winter approaches, in their own fragile cardboard booths.

Let us reach out our hands.

This is the Green Phone Booth's contribution to the Green Moms Carnival for November. Check in at Best of Mother Earth on November 3rd to see what Green Moms are saying about gratitude and three green things.


Burbanmom said...

Great post, Green Raven. Sounds like you had a wonderful, thought-provoking celebration. It reminds me that it's time to donate to the food bank again. I'm sure this post will remind others to reach out to those less fortunate.

ruchi aka arduous said...

Beautiful post, and thanks for giving us all a primer on Sukkot!

Crunchy Chicken said...

Looks like you had tons of fun! Thanks for the education, too.

Green Bean said...

What a beautiful tradition - one that brings so many things together. I love the last line, though, Green Raven. Let's reach out our hands.

The Purloined Letter said...

Thanks, everybody, for the kind comments. We had such a wonderful evening--feeling both very powerful and self-sufficient, as well as humble and connected. And we have lots of leftovers to eat as we dismantle our sukkah, too...

Nature Deva said...

What a great recount of Sukkot. That has always been my favorite Jewish holiday and my own bat mitzvah haftorah was about sukkot. I guess it's part of the reason I love gardening and being as self-sustainable as I can.

Mother Earth aka Karen Hanrahan said...

Oh the corn is postively beautiful!! I have never had an inside perspective of this holiday. I now understand it's meaning, it's heart and it's celebration. I love that you grew the entire meal in your backyard

Blog:Best of Mother Earth

Gray Matters said...

What a beautiful post. I can always count on learning something new from you.

sheila glazov said...

My friend, Karen Hanrahan, Mother Earth, sent me a link to your post. She said it made her think of me. Thank you for your post. Your words and photos awakened a multitude of joyful and celebatory memories!
Shabbat Shalom and a Yom Tov!
Sheila Glazov

Jennifer Taggart said...

I was raised Jewish, but have rejected most religious practices. But your post reminded me how thought-provoking Sukkot is, and what a strong celebration it is. Thank you for the reminder - I needed it. It is important for all of us to reflect upon what we have, and empathize for those that have less, and reach our hands out to them. So let's use this season to reach out - with money, with food, with a place to stay, with compassion, with a smile, with donated time. Whatever you can give. Only then can we heal the world.

Jennifer, TheSmartMama

Diane MacEachern said...

What I treasure most about holidays is the traditions that endure from year to year. Thanks for sharing your traditions with us! They've made me eager to get out my mother's delicious apple pie recipe and start bringing in fall leaves and berries to fill flower vases and end table bowls.

Green & Clean Mom said...

I love how you spent the time doing this together and recognizing the hard work and then reaping the benefits. We take for granted where our food comes from.

JessTrev said...

I just reread this again and love it even more now that I took the time to think it through more closely. One of my good friends went into my child's kindergarten class last week and celebrated Sukkot with her -- she loved it. Mouth is watering at the sounds of your simple meal, and I appreciate the fact that your son worked every step with you. I look forward to sharing more and more with my daughter as she gets older.

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