Primary Current Assemblies
SUKKOT: THE FESTIVAL OF TABERNACLES
(1–8 October 2012)
Manon Ceridwen Parry
Suitable for Whole School
To help children learn about the Jewish festival of Sukkot, and think about thankfulness.
Preparation and materials
– Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, which has a number of meanings, including temporary shelter, hut or booth.
– The date for Sukkot is moveable but usually falls in October. It begins on the fifteenth day of Tishri, five days after Yom Kippur.
– It is a joyful seven- or eight-day festival when Jews remember the Exodus story of the forty years their ancestors lived in the wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land.
– It has a harvest thanksgiving theme and also involves the making of sukkot, in memory of the shelters made by the Israelites in the wilderness.
– The plants that are waved are: an etrog (a type of citrus fruit), date palm leaves, a branch with leaves from the myrtle and a branch with leaves from the willow. These represent the harvest. (See section 6.)
- You will need materials for your den – a few chairs maybe, and strips of blanket or planks of wood.
- Ask the children whether any of them have a den.
Talk about when you were a child and how you enjoyed making dens or camping outside, or even maybe hiding under some blankets in the house.
What do you need in order to build a den? (Something for a roof and walls. Anything else?)
How would you make the den look nice?
(Talk further about your own experiences of growing up and making dens.)
- Explain that during this assembly you will be building a den.
But why? What has building a den got to do with a school assembly?
Explain that it’s because there is a Jewish religious festival that involves making dens.
Every year around October time each Jewish family celebrates the festival of Tabernacles (also called Sukkot) by building a sukkah (sukkah is singular; the plural is sukkot), which is a kind of a shelter.
- The festival of Tabernacles is a very important festival for people of the Jewish faith.
It is held in memory of something that happened way back in their history. Their ancestors had been slaves in Egypt, where they had been treated very badly. God rescued them from slavery and promised to lead them to a new land of their own.
But to get to the Promised Land, they had to travel through a desert-like wilderness. They spent forty years in that wilderness before they came to the Promised Land. During that time, for protection from the burning sun, and the bitter cold at night and from wild animals and sandstorms, they made rough shelters from whatever they could find growing in the wilderness.
Today, in this festival Jews remember how hard those years were and how wonderful it was to arrive at last in a beautiful country with all the food, drink and shelter they needed.
In those forty years they learned what it meant to have to rely on God for everything. In the wilderness God looked after them and gave them enough food and water to live on. It was a very scary time – they were very grateful for every drink and every bit of food they had.
This makes this festival one of thanksgiving – and one of praying for a good harvest, for a good supply of food and drink.
- But just building a den wouldn’t be enough to help people remember those forty years in the wilderness. They have to eat and drink in their sukkot and sometimes they even sleep in them as well.
Would you like to sleep in your dens? Probably not for very long! Living outside in the sukkot is a reminder to Jewish people of how lucky they are to have much more than flimsy shelters to live in.
- (As you give the following explanation, build some kind of a structure: maybe use the back of the hall or classroom as one wall (it is allowed to use an existing structure as part of your sukkah.) Use two chairs on either side, and put strips of blanket or wood across the top.)
Jews have strict rules about how to build a sukkah. These rules say that there must be at least three walls, which can be made of anything, even the side of a house. The roof has to be made of something organic (from anything that was once growing in the earth), for example, branches or strips of wood or bamboo. You have to be able to see the sky (the sun and the stars) through it, as a reminder of the time spent living in dens, without proper roofs.
Inside, the walls are decorated with fruit and branches, or reminders of the harvest, such as wheat, which hang from the roof.
Maybe during the day you can make pictures to put in the sukkah to make it look nice and as a reminder of the harvest.
- During the festival of Tabernacles, Jews go to services in the synagogue to give thanks to God for providing food and water in the desert, and to thank God for the harvest.
Every day they have a procession, when they fasten together four plants and wave them in all directions to show that God is everywhere.
They also recite psalms of thanksgiving to God.
Maybe you could go into this den to say a prayer or think about all the things you are thankful for. .
Time for reflection
To end the assembly, say that you are going to use one of the psalms that are read during this festival. As you read, encourage the children to think about all the things they are thankful for.
When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.
thank you for everything you give us:
food to eat, clothes to wear and homes to live in.
Help us always to be grateful.
Sing one of your school’s favourite harvest songs.