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  • Rabbi Karen Companez, Temple Beth-El

Step inside an Australian sukkah

Pictured left: Sukkot in Australia graphic (created by MJHS) - Photo Attribution: Government Press Office (Israel) - CC BY-SA 3.0

Why on earth are these people decorating their sukkot (plural of sukkah) with pumpkins, gourds, and squash? And why are there huge corn-stalks adorning the entrances to the sukkot? Where did they learn these strange and unusual customs? Don’t they know how sukkot are supposed to be decorated? What’s going on here?

These were some of my initial thoughts, after I’d overcome my original shock and surprise, when I encountered my first American sukkah, back in 1998, while visiting the sukkah of a friend’s rabbi which almost filled the courtyard of a large Temple in upstate New York. I stared at the sukkah and its unfamiliar decorations for a few minutes, trying not to express my shock and surprise verbally, when suddenly it dawned on me – I was now in the northern hemisphere, and you do things differently here. Coming from Australia, I was used to oranges and lemons being the typical sukkah decorations and the schach (covering) being made of palm fronds, which can be found in abundance at this time of the year, the holiday falling as it does during the southern hemisphere’s spring. Winter is waning and the spring fruits are appearing, and so that’s what we use to decorate our sukkot with. All my life, I’d associated sukkot with oranges and lemons and palm fronds. To see them adorned with pumpkins and squash and corn-stalks as their schach was very, very strange for me. But now, having been in the United States for nearly 20 years, I’ve become used to it, although I still miss seeing oranges and lemons hanging down from the roofs and the walls of sukkot. I was heartened, however, to learn that paper-chains are universal! Chag sameach – may you have a fruitful (pun intended) and meaningful Sukkot holiday, however your sukkah is decorated.

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