The Jewish festival of Sukkot
To learn about the festival of Sukkot, focusing on two of its themes.
by Caroline Donne
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar.
- To learn about the festival, focusing on two of its themes.
- To remember the time when Jewish people lived in temporary shelters in the desert, after their escape from slavery in Egypt.
- To give thanks to God for the harvest.
Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word Sukkah, which has a number of meanings, including ‘shelter’ or ‘hut’. During the festival, Jewish families and groups build Sukkot (temporary shelters) outside. They often eat meals together in the Sukkah, entertain friends and even sleep inside them. During Sukkot, 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 ceilings 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 ceiling. The Sukkah is a reminder of the temporary existence of the Israelites (the ancient Jewish people), escaping from slavery thousands of years ago. It is a reminder of the hardship of their life in the desert and their dependence on God.
Preparation and materials
- This assembly involves simply telling the story of the festival. It can include the building of a Sukkah, as a class or school activity, to illustrate the story.
- Harvest: Sukkot is also a special time when Jewish people 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: a citrus fruit or branch, palm leaves, myrtle and willow. These plants represent the harvest. Students could do some research in advance and draw pictures of them.
- If you build a Sukkah outside you can use playground equipment as the basic structure. Use material, 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 you can see the sky through the ceiling. Ideally it should be big enough to put a couple of chairs and a table inside. Alternatively, you can make a structure in the corner of the classroom or hall.
- A children’s Bible.
Ask if any of the students have ever slept outside. Perhaps they’ve been on an organized camp with other students or on a camping holiday with their families. Ask them to think of single words that describe the feeling of sleeping ‘outside’, e.g. cold, scary, lonely, exciting.
The Israelites in the desert. Using a children’s Bible, tell the story of the exodus from the point where the Israelites have escaped from slavery in Egypt and begin their journey through the desert to their new homeland (Exodus 15.22—17.16). Include the story of how God provides their food (manna) and water. You will need to remind them that Moses was their leader.
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 build temporary shelters outside, called Sukkahs, to celebrate the way in which God looked after their ancestors all those years ago. They call the festival Sukkot, the name for lots of Sukkahs. Refer to the one you have built together. Adapt the background information. In the Sukkahs, the Jews eat meals together. Sometimes they sleep in them. It is a time to be happy.
Time for reflection
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 homes to live in.
If you have built a Sukkah, small groups could visit it at different times during the day and have something to eat inside. Or you could leave the Sukkah in place for a while as a quiet space for students to think and pray.