Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah

Did you know there’s a place on earth where it hasn’t rained for nearly 2 million years? It’s the Dry Valleys in Antarctica.  I’m really tired of rain, and I’m not even talking about Hurricane Florence, just this rainrainrain-teasingbitofsun-rainrain.  The sukkah is still standing, though:


I am also getting ready to go on a big vacation. The comments below are mainly from 2015, but the days of the week on which the holidays fell then do match 2018.

We’re heading down the home stretch, both of the holiday season and of the annual Torah reading.  We have four, count ‘em, four, (except three for Reform) consecutive special days.  On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the first Torah reading is Exodus 33:12 – 34:26, after the golden calf episode.  Moses gets to see the back of the Lord (contrast the growing intimacy between the Lord and Moses with the too often strained relationship between the Lord and the Israelites), after which he goes back up Sinai and carves two new tablets.  The Lord reaffirms the covenant and there’s a quick review of the observance the Shabbat and the festival holidays (34:18-26).  Because there are distinct readings for the various days of Chol HaMoed, the second scroll reading depends on what day [of Chol HaMoed] Shabbat Chol HaMoed is.  This year, it’s the 4th day [of Chol HaMoed, i.e., the 6th day of Sukkot] so we read Numbers 29:26 – 31 which includes the sacrifices for the 5th and 6th days of Sukkot.   The haftarah is Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16, an apocalyptic vision of the coming war of Gog and Magog. There is also a custom to chant the book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), attributed to Solomon in his old age, muttering that there is nothing new under the sun.  But it’s really too long for services.

From the start of the holiday, we’ve been chanting prayers called Hoshanot while processing with lulav and etrog (just prayers on Shabbat) around the synagogue.  The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah, the great Hoshana [“Save us!”] Hoshana Rabbah is your last chance for atoning before your fate is really, really [really] sealed for the year – the end of your grace period after Yom Kippur.  There’s a Torah reading, Numbers 29:26-34 [more sacrifices].There are seven processions, each with its own set of chanted verses, so it takes a while (I’ve done this just a couple of times).  Then willow branches are beaten against the floor five times (see also Afterwards, my synagogue has an odd custom of throwing the branches up on top of the ark; no one seems to know where this custom came from.

The next day is Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly.  Torah readings, both including [but not limited to] holiday observances, are Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17 and Numbers 29:35-30:1.  In the Midrash, it is written that Shemini Atzeret represents the intimacy between God and Israel, while Sukkot represents the relationship between God and humanity. Geshem, the prayer for rain (in Israel! Not North Carolina!) is chanted.  Note that we pray for rain at the start of Israel’s rainy season; that is, we want normal rain at the normal time.

Finally, it’s time for the post-Biblical holiday of Simchat Torah.  In Israel and Reform practice, it’s combined with Shemini Atzeret.  We celebrate the ending and beginning again of the annual Torah reading.  Lots of Torah reading, aliyot for everybody who wants one, hakafot (parading around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls), dancing, paper flags to wave, candy apples, drinking… It’s fun and kid-friendly.  Monday night, after the festivities, a short Torah portion will be read, usually three short aliyot from Deuteronomy 33.   Tuesday morning, we will read from three scrolls (no waiting).  We begin with the end of Deuteronomy, V’zot HaBracha (“And this is the blessing”), Deut. 33:1-34:12, in which Moses blesses the Israelites by tribe, sees  the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, and dies there.  Then, in a second scroll, we go back to the beginning, the story of creation, Genesis 1:1-2:3.  From the third scroll, we read about (what else) sacrifices; but since were no Simchat Torah sacrifices, we read about the Shemini Atzeret ones again, Num. 29:35-30:1.  The haftarah, Joshua 1:1-18, recounts the beginning of post-Moses Israel, picking up the story immediately after the end of the Torah.  So we end one Torah reading cycle, start over, and also continue the story.  Likewise, as we finish the fall holiday season, we are starting the year afresh and getting back to continue whatever we were doing before.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,


What Sukkot and the Day of the Dead Have in Common (excerpts)

Bringing together my Mexican and Jewish heritages.


The common thread between the two celebrations is that we recognize and remember ancestors and loved ones, welcoming them back into our lives. As we celebrate Sukkot, we invite ushpizin into our sukkah, spirits that represent values and qualities of Judaism’s greatest contributors like Abraham and Sarah or Moses and Miriam, but can also be the spirits of our own family and friends. As it is a joyful harvest holiday, it is common practice to decorate the sukkah with harvest foods and artwork. Similarly, for Day of the Dead, we invite our ancestors to visit our family.

For Day of the Dead, families construct and decorate altars, known as ofrendas, with specific foods, gifts, flowers and photos of loved ones who they are honoring. Each item on the altar symbolizes something different, and each family and community decorates their altars in a different way.

For both Sukkot and Day of the Dead, we set aside time to construct temporary beautiful spaces and ritualistically contemplate our connection to the past. Not only will I invite my family and friends who have died to the sukkah this year, but I will also invite meaningful and inspiring figures in Jewish and Latinx history. I would love to share my sukkah with Miriam and Deborah, who have inspired me since I was a young girl. I would also like to invite Anita Brenner, the Mexican-born, Jewish-American woman who introduced the world to artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. It would be meaningful to invite these moving Jewish women who evoke a sense of faith and power within me.


Nothing is new under the sun…

tph selfie


Origin of comedy – Holiday processions


Comedy, like tragedy, arose from the worship of Dionysus, and was developed into a branch of literature at Athens in the fifth century. Its development was somewhat later than that of tragedy and its vigorous life continued longer. Tragedy arose from the dithyramb, which was a regular and, in part at least, a serious form of worship. Comedy, on the other hand, had its origin in the unrestrained, boisterous, and sometimes licentious fun of the processions connected with the festivals of the god of wine. Whether the word comedy is derived from komos, festive procession, or from kome, village, is uncertain. In any case, comedy arose from the festive processions connected with the rustic worship of Dionysus. Among the Dorians such processions were popular, and those who took part in them improvised jokes and rude verses, probably at times impersonating their neighbors or others against whom the shafts of their wit were aimed. In the villages of the Megarid bacchic processions with impersonations, mimic dances, and jokes, probably of a political and satiric nature, were popular.


Rain Humor
Nothing personal against Seattlites – change it to any other place getting a lot of rain (like Buffalo. IGP).
A newcomer to Seattle arrives on a rainy day. She gets up the next day and it’s raining. It also rains the day after that, and the day after that. She goes out to lunch and sees a young kid and out of despair asks, “Hey, kid, does it ever stop raining around here?”
The kid says, “How should I know?
I’m only 6.”

“I can’t believe it, ” said the tourist. “I’ve been here an entire week and it’s done nothing but rain. When do you have summer here?”
“Well, that’s hard to say, ” replied the local. “Last year, it was on a Wednesday.”


What does daylight savings time mean in Seattle?
An extra hour of rain.
It rains only twice a year in Seattle.
August to April and May to July.


Quotes on Starting Over

Each project, I suffer like I’m starting over again in life. There’s a lot of healthy insecurity that fuels this stuff. Frank Gehry

As actors, you become an expert at starting over. Lupita Nyong’o

What’s so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is that you’re constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that. Billy Crystal

I can’t tell you how many times I get into a taxicab in New York or Los Angeles, and I’m talking to somebody who is a recent immigrant who was a doctor or lawyer or engineer or professor in the country they just came from. They’re starting over again in life, and I think the majority of people out there can relate to that. Andrew Zimmern


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