The Jewish Festival of Sukkot
Building a shelter to remember
by Caroline Donne (revised, originally published in 2002)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To explore the meaning of the Jewish festival of Sukkot.
Preparation and materials
- You will need to be familiar with the story of the Exodus found in Exodus 15.22-17.16, which will need to be retold or read from a children’s Bible during the assembly. The story should include Moses leading the people out of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the people wandering in the desert, with God providing food (manna) and water for them.
- Have available some images of sukkot and the means to display them during the assembly:
- some sukkot outside some flats, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ydhh8l34
- a sukkah in a garden, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9azeygf
- a sukkah in a garden, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y7dv845f
- a sukkah in a garden, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y932tqjr
- Optional: to illustrate the story in the ‘Assembly’, Step 2, you might like to build a sukkah as a class or school activity.
If you build a sukkah outside, you can use playground equipment as the basic structure. Use fabric, sheets of paper or cardboard to fill in three sides, with one side open for the entrance. Hang paper or real flowers, fruit and vegetables from the ceiling. Make sure that you can see the sky through the ceiling. Ideally, the structure should be large enough to fit a couple of chairs and a table inside.
Alternatively, you could build a sukkah in the corner of the classroom or hall.
- You may find the following background information about Sukkot useful.
- Sukkot is plural for the Hebrew word sukkah, which has several meanings, including ‘shelter’ or ‘hut’.
- During the festival of Sukkot, Jewish families and groups build sukkot (temporary shelters) outside. They often eat meals together in the sukkot, entertain friends there and even sleep inside them.
- During the festival, the shelters can be seen against the outside walls of houses, schools or synagogues, on the balconies of flats or against garden sheds or climbing frames. The roofs are decorated with branches and leaves, but with gaps to see the sky. Inside, the walls are decorated with flowers and fruit hanging from the ceilings.
- The sukkah is a reminder of the temporary existence of the Israelites (the ancient Jews), when they were escaping from slavery thousands of years ago. It is a reminder of the hardship of their life in the desert as they moved from place to place and their dependence on God.
- Sukkot is also a time when Jews remember that everything comes from God. As a way of remembering this, they say prayers of thanks to God and wave four plants in all directions: an etrog (a type of citrus fruit), leaves from the date palm tree, a bough with leaves on it from the myrtle tree and a branch with leaves from the willow tree. These represent the harvest. Children could do some research in advance and draw pictures of them.
- Ask if any of the children have ever slept outside. Perhaps they’ve been on an organized camp with other children, or on a camping holiday with their families. Ask them to think of single words that describe the feeling of sleeping outside: cold, scary, lonely, exciting and so on.
- Tell the story of the Exodus found in Exodus 15.22-17.16.
Follow up the issues raised in the story. What must it have been like to journey through the desert? Explain that the desert can be very hot during the day, but very cold at night. There are often wild animals living there.
Is it easy to understand why the people grumbled at first? Talk about how God provided food and water for them. How might they have felt when they saw how God was taking care of them?
- Explain how every year, the Jewish people celebrate a festival called Sukkot. This is when they remember and celebrate the way in which God looked after their ancestors in the desert all those years ago. Explain that sukkot is a Hebrew word meaning ‘booths’ or ‘temporary shelters’. The word for one booth is sukkah.
- Explain that in memory of this time, Jewish families build temporary shelters (sukkot) outside at Sukkot.
Show the images of sukkot.
Optional: discuss the sukkah that you have built together.
- Explain that people eat meals together in their sukkot. Sometimes, they sleep in them. It is a time to be happy.
- Explain that because the festival of Sukkot also remembers the way God provided food and water for the people in the desert, it is also a time to thank God for each year’s harvest. It is a harvest festival.
Time for reflection
The sukkot are special places for people to spend time together, to remember God’s goodness in the past and to have time to think in peace.
Encourage the children to try to find their own place where they can be peaceful and think.
If you have built a sukkah, small groups could visit it at different times during the day and have something to eat inside. Alternatively, you could leave the sukkah in place for a while as a quiet space where children can think and pray.
Thank you for the food we have to eat and the fresh, clean water we have to drink.
Thank you for our homes, where we can shelter from the rain and the cold.
We pray for all those people who will not have enough food to eat today, or houses or flats to live in.
‘Lord of the harvest’ (Come and Praise, 133)