Ten unforgettable days on the Beutel


THE Anita Saltz International Education centre in Jerusalem is an exciting, innovative initiative of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. It offers many seminars and workshops, one of them being the Beutel Seminar for Progressive Jewish Leadership.

I was privileged to be chosen by the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) to represent South Africa at this year’s seminar, which lasted ten days.

There were 16 participants from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Israel, North America, Poland, Spain and South Africa. Together we studied aspects of Judaism from Biblical times to the present.

With Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman of Kehilat Kol Haneshama Synagogue, we explored the important connection between prayer and spirituality. This took place in a room at Hebrew Union College (HUC) facing the walls of the Old City, giving one a true sense of our connection to Ancient Judaism.

We studied sacred texts within the majesty of sacred space. These texts truly came alive when visiting the different sites both in Jerusalem and the Negev. Among the interesting and fascinating activities were:

  • Walking Jerusalem through the Psalms. We reached Zion Gate and David’s Tomb, on the way studying amongst others Psalm 126, Shir HaMa’a lot, A Song of Ascents.
  • We went to the Second Temple Period Model of Jerusalem and then on to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City where we visited an underground village which has recently been excavated.
  • We spoke about building and destruction on our extended stay on Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem. This was of course a most emotional and draining experience for us all. Our guide was superb in imparting information and certainly helped our understanding of the incredible but horrific exhibits and memorabilia of those dreadful years.
  • We discussed the building of a Jewish State on visiting the Trumpledor Cemetery in Tel Aviv. Bialik and Shalom Aleichem’s daughter, among other famous people, are buried there.
  • By contrast, modern Tel Aviv offered the fun of shopping and bartering at Carmel Market.
  • At the Palmach Museum, where the army is graphically depicted from pre-1944 to 1951, we spoke to some people presently in the army and later met with the Reform Movement’s Mechina which is a pre-army gap year program. We were taken to some of the projects these youngsters are involved in, including an Old Aged Centre for the Visually Impaired, and ended this day with a typical Middle Eastern meal at Jaffo Café.
  • We went to the Tayelet where we looked down on Jerusalem. We spoke about “Old Jerusalem” which was in the centre – the obviously wealthy Jerusalem, full of trees to the left and the poorer Jerusalem in an arid area to the right.
  • Our discussions included ethical issues within the Jewish society and between Jews and Arabs. Coming from South Africa, with our background of discrimination, I found this particularly interesting.
  • A night time visit to the Kotel including the Tunnel tour which goes under the Moslem Quarter of the Old City, revealed evidence of a village being there thousands of years ago.
  • On our way to Kibbutz Yahel, a reform Kibbutz in the Arava, we stopped at Sde Boker, Ben Gurion’s home and final resting place. Although I thought I knew much about Ben Gurion, I gained a better insight into his personality.
  • During our stay on Yahel we were fortunate to come into contact with pioneers of the Kibbutz who spoke about leadership on the early days of Yahel, the strategies for working in a small community and building a community from scratch. Yahel Kibbutz is truly proof that people can live and work together in harmony.
  • Another Reform Kibbutz in the area, Kibbutz Lotan, where they are very ecologically minded, has an eco-park, organic garden and constructed wetland for migrating birds. Their motto is ‘Le’ovda u’leshomra’ (to till the earth and to preserve it). All the rooms or house are built with straw, mud and used tyres – certainly ecologically friendly.
  • While in the Negev, walking the paths of ancient times, we spoke about modern day Israel, its political situation and “where to from now?” This was most timely as it was just prior to the national elections. It gave us all a better understanding of Israel’s governmental issues.
  • One particular incident which had an effect on me was sitting at the City of David studying the text of David’s ascension to Jerusalem with the Ark, when at 11.50 am the Moslem call to prayer was heard all around us. Because we share so much common ground both literally and figuratively, it gave me a feeling of hope for peace and tranquility in Israel today.

I feel the success of the seminar is the fact that throughout the 10 days we learnt to build communities and connect with one another, making world-wide contacts and friendships that I hope will endure for many years to come.


Top row: Jasper Andersen (Denmark);Phyllis Sewall (USA); Barbara Rosel (Germany); Joshua Reuben (India); Andrew Monk (England); Ludmila Krzewska (Poland)

Middle row: Heidimarie Braun (Germany); Gisela Dolgonos (Spain); Yishai Lachter (Israel); Jeanette Gross (USA); Levanah Leibmann (France); Lenore Rubin (USA)

Front row: Marsha Zinberg (Canada); Giddy Lief (South Africa); Paul Liptz (Leader); Larisa Merunowicz (Poland); Terry Boyd (Australia)


Feeling fulfilled after praying at the Kotel


At the gravesides of David and Paula Ben Gurion, with the Negev in the background


Holding a pomello just picked off a tree in the orchard of Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava

A new prayer book for the Commonwealth

09mar-mishkancoverPROGRESSIVE congregations around South Africa evaluated three different prayer books during 2008, and have chosen one – the US prayer book Mishkan T’Filah – which is to be adopted from December 2009, in a modified form customised for South Africa.

The current prayer book, Gates of Prayer, is to be phased out after more than thirty years because:

  • Most copies of the book, in most congregations, are now in an extremely tattered state.
  • Changes to the liturgy, particularly the use of gender-inclusive language, have made it obsolete.

South African rabbis decided that the choice of payer book should be one in which all members could participate. During the course of 2008, three different prayer books were tried out in congregations around the country: The British Reform prayer book Forms of Prayer (2008); the British Liberal movement prayer book Siddur Lev Chadash (1995); and the US reform prayer book Mishkan T’Filah (2008).

The Liberal book was rejected first, as too abbreviated, although many people liked the additional readings it supplies. The British Reform book was widely supported because it takes the most traditional approach, closer to South African practice, and offers excellent explanatory notes. But in the end, the US book won out, for a number of reasons.

  • The book contains the Pilgrim Festival prayers, eliminating the need to buy yet another prayer book (the British book is for daily and Shabbat prayer only).
  • Mishkan T’Filah includes the widest selection of supporting materials, including music, adult study material and even a full colour children’s siddur and machzor.
  • The Progressive Jewish movement in Australia and New Zealand were given permission by the Americans to customise the book to their purposes. Changes could be made to US spelling, to references to northern hemisphere seasons, and to various prayers which had been shortened. The Australians contacted the South Africans, and it was agreed to jointly produce a Commonwealth version, including local national prayers and anthems.

Considerable editing and production work is required, which is why the revised Mishkan T’Filah will only be launched in South Africa near the end of 2009. The book has a most attractive format and design, and is printed in colour. It includes a wide selection of additional readings from the Progressive liturgical tradition and the great poetic writings from Jewish history. It is flexible, allowing for alternative theologies and styles of service.

Help sponsor the siddur!

During the months up to June 2009, the SAUPJ will be calling upon supporters to help sponsor the siddur project.

One type of sponsorship allows people to have dedications to their loved ones inscribed permanently in all printed copies of the book.

Three different levels of sponsorship are available, ranging in price from R2 500 to R7 500. To learn more about the programme, click here to see the SAUPJ sponsorship form.


What the name means

Mishkan is the Hebrew word for “tabernacle”, the nomadic holy sanctuary carried through the desert by Moses and the Israelites. Mishkan T’Filah translates as tabernacle, or dwelling place, of prayer.

Response to ban on Dalai Lama

As we approach Passover, the celebration of the Israelites’ liberation from tyranny and oppression, we the South African Progressive Jewish Community, are appalled that the government of South Africa has refused to grant His Holiness the Dalai Lama entry into our country to attend the 2010 World Cup-organised peace conference in Johannesburg.

The government’s willingness to succumb to pressure and threats from the Chinese government is a rejection of what we are supposed to hold dear – the sanctity of human rights, democracy and freedom.

It is ironic that the news of the government’s submission to one of the world’s most oppressive nations broke two days after our celebration of Human Rights Day.

This refusal to allow the Dalai Lama to attend a conference on peace makes a mockery of our constitution and of the struggle against apartheid during which so many people suffered humiliation, imprisonment and death so that South Africa can be transformed into a country in which the dignity of all men and women is guaranteed.

We call on the South African government to rescind its decision not to allow the esteemed leader of the Tibetan People into our beautiful country and to stand up to the bullying tactics of the Chinese government. We should be guided by our desire to do what is ethically and morally right and not by intimidation and money.

Issued by: Rabbi Malcolm Matitiani, Chairman of the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis, and Mr Steve Lurie, Chairman of the South African Union of Progressive Judaism.

Declaration of Solidarity

As members and supporters of the Jewish community, we affirm the democratic right of freedom of opinion, expression and association guaranteed to all citizens of the Republic of South Africa.

Those rights allow us to declare publicly our support for the State of Israel whose foundations lie in our historic and religious connection to the land and the unbroken Jewish presence there for three millennia.

We take pride in the outstanding achievements of the State of Israel and the many contributions to the betterment of humanity since its establishment more than 60 years ago.

We hope that peace and concord will soon be established between Israelis and Palestinians establishing mutual agreement, respect and growing cooperation.

We call on the international community and the government of South Africa to use all diplomatic means at their disposal to achieve the immediate release of abducted Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza by the Hamas since 25 June 2006.

We encourage all South Africans to live and act in the spirit of the Bill of Rights of South Africa and our motto, “Unity in Diversity” and to respect our democratic right as loyal South Africans to support Israel.

on Dalai Lama

We the South African Progressive Jewish Community, are appalled that the government of South Africa has refused to grant His Holiness the Dalai Lama entry into our country to attend the 2010 World Cup-organised peace conference in Johannesburg.
See full statement.

Letters to our friends from 2009 shnatties


From Netzer Staff:

We have a week and a half to go for Etgar and Machon. The shnattim are doing fine and looking forward to their next part of Shnat- going to the cities! Machon enjoyed their peer- led week and Etgar enjoyed their Northern Tiyul in the Galilee and the Golan Heights. This week we informed the shnattim that they are all going together to Kibbutz Yahel for their last part of Shnat, starting the 30th of August 2009. We hope they have a great time there.

Shabbat Shalom


Parents Report from Machon, by Isabella Williams:

Dear Families, friends, and of course beloved pets,

We are all missing you greatly, but are keeping ourselves busy with our daily lives here in Israel.

Machon is coming to an end. Some of us are sad to have to leave this place we have called home for the past 4 months, and other cant wait to move onto the next part of our Shnat program.
Classes are concluding and this week started our peer-led week.

Last Wednesday Machon held a Tikkun Leil for us to celebrate Shavuot a day earlier than the country, so we could have fun learning as well as going out to the commnity for the real shavuot the next night.

At 11.45pm we all made our way to Ulam Rachel. We were provided with tea, coffee, fruit, biscuits and of course the traditional cheesecake to keep us awake.

We had 4 guest speakers over the course of the night – a feminist, a hareidi, a kabbalist and an environmentalist – who each spoke about two topics including an insiders vew on Hareidi society and Kabbalistic philosophy.

The busy night of learning concluded at 5.30am when we headed down to the tayelet to watch the beautiful sunrise over Jerusalem and to sing songs and a few prayers – Netzer style!

Thursday was a chofesh day so we could sleep and recover from our night of learning and have an oppotunity to attend another tikkun leil that night.

The weekend was a normal free weekend. Most machoniks chose to stay in Jerusalem.

I enjoyed shabbat with Etgar. We baked challah and lit shabbat candles that Rikki and Talia had decorated during their volunteering. Rikki cooked up amazing sushi and we had a really enjoyable dinner.

Monday was our first day of peer-led classes. This is where fellow machoniks become the teacher and the teacher’s join the rest of the class as students. Our erev peula was a particularly fun night. We went to a park and we had pizza and ice cream for dinner before playing backyard cricket.

We were then split into teams where we had to dress up to play a giant board-game drawn out on the basketball court. There were lots of group challanges and we all had a lot of fun.

Tuesday was a regular day, except at 11am we had a bomb drill. The sirens went off over the city and everyone made for the bomb shelters. It was an experience i’ve never had before and hope never have to repeat.

That afternoon for Tnua time (it was just Machon because Etgar are on tiyul) Neil treated us to a movie, popcorn and drinks. We weren’t told what we were going to see – it was a surprise. We made our way to Malcha Mall, sat in our seats and anxiously waited for the movie to start – meanwhile trying to guess what it was that we were about to watch. It turned out to be Star Trek!!! We all enjoyed ourselves especially as it was the first time for most of us to go to the cinemas in Israel.

Sending you all our love and ensuring you that our Hebrew is getting slightly better each day.

Take Care.
Love always,
Bella xoxo


Etgar report by Beth Exiner:

Dear family and friends,this week started off with a late wakeup on Sunday and then lunch at Dana’s place, where Shira and Dana cooked us a feast of delicious pasta and a choice in salads. Here, we were briefed about the week to come.Bright and early Monday morning, we were up and on the bus, ready for Northern Tiyul. Sadly, we also had to say goodbye to Alex, who was going back to Australia.

We picked up our tour guide and friend Niro in Tel Aviv and were on our way, up to the north of Israel. We started the tiyul with a short hike on Carmel Mountain which is also called Little Switzerland. We soon found out that the name originated from how green everything was on the mountain. That afternoon, we had a coffee and a look around the Druze village, Dalyat Al-Carmel and then we were hosted by some people from the Druze community who answered our questions about their religion and also cooked a good dinner, made even better by the fact that we were all starving.

Some interesting things we learned about the Druze are that at 15 years of age, everyone has the right to choose whether they will be secular or religious, and also the Druze believe in five prophets. The next day we awoke early, drove to the Kinerret and went to a lookout, where Niro taught us about the significance of the sea, such as it is the source of water for a large percent of Israel.

After this, we went on a five hour hike called Wadi El-Al, which was absolutely breath taking, albeit really, really hard.On Wednesday, we had a more relaxing day, visiting the caves at Rosh Hanikra, and then went wine tasting at a place called Binyamina. This week was incredible, but even so, I think we were all happy to see the weekend come a day early!

MAY 30

From the Netzer staff

Summer is here, and also the feeling that things are coming to an end- whether it is Etgar, Machon or the whole of Shnat Netzer. Machon had a very interesting, complicated and meaningful trip to Chevron, and Etgar enjoyed their very well organized peer-led week.

This week the entire group (both North and South) met on Tuesday in Tel- Aviv for the MASA Mega Event- once a year, MASA holds a special event for all the MASA programs in Israel. This year it was held in Tel- Aviv, and had our Prime- Minister Binyamin Netanyahu coming to bless the participants; awarding the volunteering prizes to participants; a concert by Mosh Ben- Ari. The shnattim enjoyed a Shabbat Beyachad last weekend, and one wrote to me: Thought you might like to see the photos from Shabbat B’yachad – there are some really really lovely group ones that I think you’d like. Have a look here.

I hope you love them too. It seems that the group really enjoyed their time together.

Our participants are doing well, and enjoying their time. Offers and suggestions as to the upcoming Chag Shavout were given to the Shnattim, and we hope they will use them.


Etgar report by Talya Davidoff:

Dear parents shnatties and anyone else who enjoys a little light reading

So, last Friday we had a shabbat bayachad (together) with all the shnatties on kibbutz Ein Dor. Its was most likely our last chance for the whole group to spend time with each other. We ran a service for the kibbutz and spent lots of time at the pool, not to mention celebrating the birthdays of Kimmi, Sarah, Blake, and Oli! As scheduled, on Sunday, Etgar began their peer led week.

We ran amazing programs for each other like politics in the middle east, the amazing race, Kehila (community), and much more. On Tuesday evening, the whole Shnat group was invited to a MASA event, with many performances and a speech from the Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Natanyahu. We ended our peer led week with smoothies on Wednesday as Thursday is the beginning of Shavuot.

MAY 21

From the Netzer staff:

What a HOT week!!! The summer suddenly came, bringing a hit wave to Israel, and making it hard to focus.

This week is the last regularly scheduled week of Etgar. The Etgarniks had their last week of classes and started saying goodbye to their volunteer places. They have also begun planning the end of Etgar. Most of their energy has been focused on next week’s Peer-Led Week, a week during which the Etgarniks get to plan an entire week’s activities on their own. They have created planning committees and are in the process of finalizing the schedule. Everyone in the group will be leading activities. They have also started planning their Sikkum Seminar.

On Wednesday the group went to Mitkan Adam, an army base near Modi’in that house a special unit that works with dogs. We are very fortunate to have Yuval, (a member of the Netzer family who is the current TAMAR coordinator and Netzer liaison to Spanish-speaking countries), who served in this army base, joining us on our trip. Machon came back from a 5 days trip in the North, which was truly great! All the shnattim loved it and described it as one of their best experiences so far.

Thursday is Yom Yerushalayim and the shnattim went out to celebrate in the city that they have come to call home. This Shabbat, a few of our Northern shnattim are celebrating their birthday on kibbutz Ein- Dor, and invited over all the shnattim to celebrate with them. About 50 shnattim are expected to celebrate the upcoming birthdays, with Netzer sponsoring the Shabbaton. Mazal tov guys! This weekend was initiated and organized by the Shnatim and we are very proud of them for their initiative.


Etgar report by Alex Tate:

This week on Etgar we had a fairly standard week in terms of classes although we spent large amounts of time planning for peer led week, the week in which we plan and run the entire week of etgar which is next week.

Today we had a siyur to an army base where the dog unit of the Israeli army is based, we had a tour and got to see, some of the 300 dogs that are in the unit in action, including dogs sniffing out explosives and weapons and attack dogs ferociously launching and attacking at a trainer in a protective suite. this showed us a whole new innovative element to the IDF and one you certainly don’t get to see every day. We said goodbye and thanked all our teachers this week as this was our last standard week of Etgar, next week is peer led, then northern tiyul and finally sikkum seminar.


Machon report by Sam Osborn,
Northern Tiyul:


Our alarms rang at 6:30. By 6:45 we were on our way. As the Pope was driving somewhere that day all roads around Kiryat Moria were closed off at 7:00. Luckily we made it and had a nice sleep until breakfast. On the first day we explored old Acco. We toured the old crusader buildings, the markets and the port. This was the second time I’d been to Acco but this time with Haggai guiding so I learnt all these different facts and more background. As the Hummus is unbelievable in Acco as soon as we were on lunch break, a few of us ran down to Hummus Said and cued up. You get hummus, pitta, onion, pickles, olives and tomatoes. It is unbelievably delicious. I ate one entire bowl of hummus by myself.

After Acco we had (extra) lunch on the resort like Achziv beach were we played a bit of beach cricket, swam and read. Our last stop was the Grottos in Rosh Hanikra (naturally formed sea caves) before driving to our hostel in Pi’quien, a druze village. In the evening we had an amazing kef (fun) peula and went to late right before a day of long hiking. We hiked along Nachal Kziv past Montfort Castle through jungle like valleys.

In the night we drove to Kibbutz Manara where we stayed for the weekend, literally on the border of Lebanon. There was the kibbutz fence, then the road, then the Lebanese fence. Nearby was a Nepalese-manned UN base. On Friday we toured Mt Meron and Tsfat before preparing for Shabbat. In the evening Shabbat we had a very interesting and potentially controversial service.

We wanted to have one Shabbat together, Orthodox Reform and Secular so we created a special service. We had the full Orthodox service plus lots of readings and alternative prayers in the booklet and some poems read out. I ran the service with Josh Back, a lovely hinani-ite. In the hall we set up two mechitsas, men and women on the left and right of them and mixed between the two. Proudly our service fulfilled all the requirements of the most Halachly observant there (which is quite observant). It was very different and strange for some people and was mostly a great service. A few people couldn’t be bothered participating, which was disappointing, but expected.

On Saturday we had a relaxing Shabbat and then Saturday night was Karaoke night. Sadly there was no R.E.N.T on the machine. However we discovered there is an amateur production coming.

Machon is coming to an end but is extremely busy. Soon options will start!!
It will be very sad to leave Jerusalem which feels like such a second home.

Again: most people are still planning on coming home.

Sam Osborn (Melbourne)


For further information, please contact

Jackie on 082 855 5199

Mor on 082 339 0246

Email: netzersa@gmail.com

Fax: 011 646 5543

Making Judaism fun for tomorrow’s leaders

The Progressive Jewish youth movement, Netzer, provides regular events for young people ranging from Grade 1 to post-matric

Netzer’s big 2007 summer camp

Get a taste of the fun you can have with Netzer, from our report and photographs of the December 2007 camp at Glencairn, near Cape Town.

Pictures from the 2006 summer camp

Passing the light to the next generation

What happens when the youth are no longer so young? They join TaMaR, the young adults movement

Netzer visits Israel

The youth movement Netzer took 13 madrichim on a study tour of Israel in 2007 to learn about Progressive Judaism and independent Zionism.


A South African report on the WUPJ conference

MY TIME in Jerusalem was like an epiphany. I experienced, for a few hours, the lifestyle of an ultra Orthodox family. The choice my nephew and niece have made is not one I would contemplate but I respect their decision to live their lives the way that makes them happy. Although I do not understand the concepts of men being the “masters”, and preceding every action with a bracha, they are happy and fulfilled.

Then I was privileged to have a guide the leading expert on Archaeology in Jerusalem, and to see that city through the eyes of a passionate man, whose knowledge of Israel as a whole and Jerusalem in particular is vast. From the walled city of Bethlehem and Rachel’s tomb, to the ruins of the first Church (inside the old city) my morning was filled with exciting new discoveries.

It struck me, quite suddenly, that here I was, a Jew, in the country of my forefathers – that I was standing on land where many thousands of years ago my people had stood. That I was not one of about 60,000 Jews in South Africa, but one of millions, some of whom had gone before me, others who are still with us today. It was a feeling of wonderful and wondrous belonging.

But while this was food for the soul the nourishment came from the conference itself.

The opening ceremony was an absolute joy and delight. All participating countries flags were paraded (the South Africans were by far the most vocal when our flag appeared) and we were treated to an evening of wonder. After the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, welcomed us to his city we were entertained by the Mattan Klein trio who entertained us with great jazz. Songstress Peri Smilow lifted our spirits and sand artist Evgeni Swerdlov overwhelmed us with his thrilling and imaginative creations.

Thursday found us gathered at the beautiful Beit Shmuel complex to listen to the controversial Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger who spoke on “A new inclusivity for Jews and Judaism – stepping out of the kosher closet.” One of things she spoke about was how, the Christmas period is one of difficulty for Jews. It was therefore decided that, in the UK, Limmud would be held during the period and this has proven to be extremely successful. The rabbi believes that with modern genetics it is not necessary to see the child come out of its mother’s womb to know if it is Jewish, but that it is how a child is raised and how it behaves that should determine if he/she is Jewish. She also believes that gay couples should be welcomed into Jewish communities.

Each region then presented verbal or electronic reports. Some points of interest – the Australasian region (Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Mumbai) donated approximately US$800,000 to the WUPJ in 2008, the FSU had 1200 children at their summer camps in 2008 and Chabad are closing schools in the FSU and the Progressive movement is planning to open its first kindergarten in the region. North America has about 900 congregations with approximately 1 million affiliated members. An “Ambassadors manual” has been launched by this region to get people excited about Reform Judaism.

The first real session of the day, that I attended, was “What do Jewish Women want?” Presentations were given by women from France, North America, the FSU and Israel. In France society is not equal although it is starting to be easier for women to have careers. There are differences in the way boys are educated and boys are often told “not to cry like a girl.”

In North America the main focus is on wanting to make a difference and to be accepted as equals in all aspects of life. The women in the FSU want everything but mostly personal fulfilment and they strive to be involved in the community. In Israel women want control over their bodies – for example some Rabbis now tell new mothers to only breastfeed for three months so that they can fall pregnant again. On the city councils men compliment the women who are silent and in a recent study it was found that women are seven times more likely to be interrupted than men. Some buses are segregated with men in the front and women at the back. Women ambulance drivers earn NIS 800 while their male counterparts earn NIS 2800. Women are forbidden from praying out loud at the Wailing Wall.

This session was followed by a lunch which was the inaugural meeting of WRJ-Israel. So far there are 16 Sisterhoods in Israel, some of which are twinned with Sisterhoods in the US. It was at this luncheon that I presented our gift of NIS1800 which was received with enormous gratitude.

Currently the various Sisterhoods are involved in Study, Philanthropy, working with B’nei Mitzvah students, working towards getting women called to the Torah, Care Committees, Rosh Chodesh groups and having mothers and daughters celebrate their Bat Mitzvah together. The following is their informal mission statement: “Do not let fear be your counsel. Learn to fail and let failure lead to making a difference. Choose your issues carefully. Do not steal another woman’s identity. Do not bear false witness. Do not covert. Do not choose projects that are unrealistic.”

Lunch was followed by the session “Women in Congregational Life. Using our power to affect change” This is the session at which I was the speaker and my speech is sent herewith as a separate attachment. Needless to say everyone present were totally gobsmacked by what we do with our limited numbers and resources. I will not detail anyone else’s presentation other than to say that what they do is really tiny in comparison to our involvement. As Rabbi Jacobs pointed out – we are the smallest community but do the most work.

The final session of the day was “The Torah – a Women’s Commentary” and here we had a brief study session and were given the opportunity to look at the Commentary, which some of us saw in Cape Town at the conference in 2008. The costs of this were funded by WRJ America.

Friday morning started on a fun note with all participants to the IMPJ (Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) being given chewing gum, so that we could feel like real Israelis. They chew gum like it is going out of fashion. In 2007 research was conducted re the potential of Reform Judaism in Israel. This was designed to identify the attitude of secular and traditional Jews towards the Reform movement. (Traditional Jews constitute approximately 30% of the population). The results were interesting to say the least:

  • 75% secular and 42% traditional Jews support our movement;
  • 56% secular and 39% traditional Jews are willing to support our activities;
  • 71% secular and 48% traditional Jews will accept a liberal Jewish education;
  • 7% secular and 3% traditional Jews have been exposed to a Reform ceremony of some kind;
  • 51% secular and 72% traditional Jews have never been exposed to a Reform ceremony of some kind;

When asked what they think of Reform Judaism the following responses were received:

  • 28% secular and traditional Jews know nothing about our movement however
  • 46% were positive about our movement
  • 20% were negative
  • 27% were neutral.

The 15 year plan of the IMPJ is to double the number of Reform communities, to ‘brand’ Reform Judaism, to expand their activities and to identify and promote philanthropy.

Rabbinic salaries in Israel – 30-40% are paid by the congregation, the balance comes from the IMPJ. The workers on the Reform vineyards are handicapped in some way or another and therefore the wines cannot be declared kosher.

We then travelled by bus to Tel Aviv and I went with a group to Beit Daniel where we spoke to people either undergoing conversion or newly converted. Many of these tried the Orthodox route first and two of the more bizarre responses were:

  • One woman was told that because she was an actress the Orthodox could not convert her because theatre is Greek in origin.
  • Another response, this time to a child adopted by Romanian Jews. She must attend an orthodox school. We will convert her, but if ever she leaves the school her conversion will be revoked.

Such incidences are why many come to the Progressive movement for conversion.

On Sunday it was back to work, and another keynote address, this time regarding Israeli politics. The issue of whether Israel is a Jewish state or an ad hoc place was raised. There is reason to be concerned because whilst the US is breaking barriers, Israel is building them. Issues around marriages were also raised.

I then attended the session on “Raise the Ruach” which should have been attended by every Progressive Jew in South Africa, because we really need it. Just to go back to Kabalat Shabbat – the service I attended at Beit Daniel was so wonderful – lots of singing, guitar playing and great Ruach. I left feeling totally uplifted.

But – back to the session: some of the ideas were to give each member a name tag, so that they can be identified. If this is not an option then at least members of Management should wear a name tag. At least 2 members of management should be on hand with the Rabbi to greet congregants before services. We should do a lot of communal singing. We need to get members to participate in the service and to make all members and visitors feel welcome.

I then attended a session on Tikkun Olam and it was a pity that South Africa did not participate although I did manage to tell those present about what we do during the question/answer session, focussing on our project “Put God on your guest list. Once again all were impressed and some said they would take that theme home with them, and institute it in their countries. In Australia Netzer have decided to go vegetarian for ecological reasons. They plant trees in the Netzer forest in Israel and work in indigenous schools in Cairns.

Other speakers felt that the Orthodox spend too much energy on things like putting on Teffilin, building Sukkot and lighting candles; the Reform way is to repair, to be involved in social action and to make concrete social changes. In Barcelona on Tu Bishvat they plant trees where they are needed, invite the poor to Pesach Seder and help the needy on every Jewish holiday. On Yom Kippur food is given to those in desperate need and on Suckot they help the homeless. In the Ukraine Netzer clean and maintain abandoned cemeteries. Prisoners are taught and 11 of these are studying through the Hebrew Open University.

After lunch (another wonderful meal, as they all were) I went with a group to see what the youth (machinot) in Tel Aviv are doing in the field of Tikkun Olam. 45 young adults, 10 months before their army intake, stay together and learn about their identities. They discuss moral dilemmas that they face, take turns in being responsible for duties in the house and do volunteer work.

In Jaffa the school system is integrated. About 60% of the learners are Jews. Approximately 80% of the Arabs are Muslim. After school those children who need extra tuition or assistance visit a learning centre where 2 of the machinot give one hour lessons. Other machinot visit an old-age home which is mainly for Jews from the FSU and they are entertained. I went to both these facilities and they are unbelievable. We were royally entertained by some of the residents at the old age home. The machinot also do other things to give them a feeling for what others suffer – one young lad lived as a blind person for three days, another lived in a Bedouin village.

From there it was unfortunately to the airport to come home. Due to pressures at work I was unable to stay for the closing ceremony which I am sure was as wonderful as the rest of the conference.

Once again, my gratitude to all who made it possible and to those in Israel who made it so special.

Phina Hoberman named again for world board

Phina Hoberman has been nominated to serve on the board of directors of the international organisation, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), for a third term.Hoberman has represented the South African Union of Temple Sisterhoods (SAUTS) on the board since 2003 when the sisterhoods of SAUTS nominated her to serve as their official representative.

“I was subsequently elected on November 8, 2003 as a member on the Women of Reform Judaism Board of Directors at the 44th WRJ Biennial Assembly, which took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota,” Hoberman said.

“Members of the WRJ board are usually elected for a four-year period only. It therefore came as a complete surprise when I received a letter earlier this year informing me that the Committee on Nominations had recommended that my term be extended for a further two-year period (2007-2009). I feel very honoured,” she said.

The vote for the board members will take place during the 46th WRJ Assembly, which is due to take place in December in San Diego, California.

According to SAUTS national president, Monica Solomon, Phina has represented the SAUTS with distinction, at great expense to herself, and has kept us informed of everything that is being done by the WRJ.

“She has been a wonderful ambassador, not only for the sisterhoods in this country, but for Progressive Judaism in South Africa,” said Solomon.

In a letter to Hoberman, Linda Canon of the WRJ said: “I want you to know we are delighted to have you as a board member even if you are unable to attend all the meetings. Mazeltov. I look forward to continuing to work with you.”

“Kol hakavod, Phina, from all the Sisterhood members in South Africa. We are so proud of you!” said Solomon.

Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) is the women’s affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Progressive Judaism in North America. Established in 1913, WRJ now represents more than 75 000 women in over 500 women’s groups in North America and around the world.

With a mission to ensure the future of Progressive Judaism, WRJ works to educate and train future sisterhood and congregational leadership about membership, fundraising, leadership skills, advocacy for social justice, and innovative and spiritual programming.

About Phina Hoberman

Phina Hoberman has been a member of the Cape Town Progressive Jewish Congregation (Temple Israel) since 1964. She joined the Green Point Sisterhood Committee in 1974 and has served as chairperson of this sisterhood and president of the Cape Town sisterhoods on numerous occasions since then.

Hoberman was elected national president of the Southern African Union of Temple Sisterhoods (SAUTS) in 1983 and held in this position for two years. She represented the SAUTS at international conferences in the United States and in Israel during her term of office.

In 1999, Hoberman served a term as a member of Temple Israel’s executive committee and acted as Temple Israel’s representative on the Western Province Zionist Council for several years.

The SAUTS honoured Hoberman in July 2000 when the organisation bestowed upon her honorary life vice presidency in recognition of many years of devoted service to the SAUTS, and in December 2001, the sisterhoods of Cape Town presented her with the same honour for “exemplary leadership and many years of devoted, loyal and faithful service to the sisterhood and the congregation.”


A year later, Hoberman received the distinction of becoming the first woman ever to be appointed
as a trustee of the Cape Town Progressive Jewish Congregation.

In February 2004, she was selected by WRJ for the honour of co-chairing World Jewry in the WRJ Department on Religious Action, and in May 2006, she was elected to serve as a member of the WRJ Department of Programming and Advocacy.

Hoberman’s dedication to the SAUTS is noteworthy, and her commitment to the Cape Town sisterhoods continues.

Over the years, Hoberman has also made a variety of Judaica items for Temple Israel in Cape Town and other Jewish organisations. In January 1998, she donated to Temple Israel five Torah covers that she had made.

Hoberman was married to the late David Hoberman for 53 years. She has two daughters, two sons, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

May the lights burn through generations

For eight nights, beginning with the eve of 25 Kislev (4 December), candles are to be lit in commemoration of Chanukah, the feast decreed in the Apocryphal Books of the Maccabees and in the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21b. For centuries, these days were marked in home and in synagogue in quite simple ways. In more recent decades, Chanukah has assumed a new and more significant profile with more elaborate celebrations.There is a marked difference between the reasons for celebration of these days between the Books of the Maccabees and the Talmud. While historian, Flavius Josephus – formerly Joseph ben Gorion haCohen and commander in chief of the Judean forces in the Galilee in the first century CE – records the historical events of 168-165 BCE, when the descendants of the priest Mattathias rose in armed revolt against the Hellenistic overlord King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and created a satrapy of the Syrian empire known as the Hasmonean Dynasty. The Talmud offers a miracle at the conclusion of their revolt, when the despoiled Temple in Jerusalem was cleaned and purified and a last cruse containing olive oil sufficient to light the ancient Menorah for one day continued supplying necessary light for the sacred light for eight days while a new consecrated supply was made ready.

Each has its own relevance and truth: The Hasmonean Revolt stemmed from the imposition of martial law in ancient Judea by an impatient monarch that included the imposition of Hellenistic worship in the Temple, a violation severe enough to cause the conservative Mattathias to refuse to take part in it, even in his own home near the modern city that bears the ancient name of Modi’in. The Temple itself was rendered unfit for the worship of God; it was not destroyed. Restoration of the purity was one result of the victory of the Judah, Simon and John, who are known as the Maccabees [Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, translated by William Whiston, Book XII, especially Chapters VI & VII].

The military nature of the Maccabees victory became increasingly problematic over the next centuries. As the fate of Judea descended under the rule of Rome, and especially after the catastrophic defeat that left the Temple in ashes and Jerusalem’s high places dedicated as Aelia Capitolina – the City of Zeus – the revision of the holiday had a new political imperative. The uprising became information largely suppressed; the Books of the Maccabees exist now only in the Greek translation preserved in Christian Scripture.

At the end of the 19th Century, however, the growth of political Zionism elevated the stature of this great and successful Jewish uprising. Growing prosperity and an increased awareness of the potential for Jews to create our own homeland by resettlement, land purchase and personal dedication to Eretz Yisraeil – the Land of Israel – made Chanukah an important time of the year. While some assert that it is the arrival of contemporary consumer culture, the Zionist appeal is even earlier.

In the synagogue, the eight days are marked by reading from the Torah, with prescribed selections taken from Numbers chapter 7-8 & 28. These readings describe the gifts offered at the dedication of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. The daily service also includes the reading of the group of Psalms called Hallel [Psalms 113-119]. These special aspects to the worship offer some real evidence in a search for the original meaning of the holiday – for they duplicate the readings that are included on the much more important festival of Sukkoth, which is associated with both the dedication of the original portable Tabernacle and the First Temple constructed by King Solomon.

From a Progressive Jewish standpoint, the current high status Chanukah poses some real challenges. The Hasmoneans were strong opponents of the part of the population that accepted the aesthetic and life style of Hellenistic society. Their conservatism and opposition to change was supported by the ideology of the Sadducees. The Pharisees, whose ascendancy after this period became complete, were opponents because they sought to interpret Torah in ways that opened Judaism to the broader world of Hellenistic society.

What shall we do? In the opinion of this writer we should light the lights as a remembrance of the adaptability of Judaism through the eight nights of Chanukah. They are sacred lights, not used for illumination, and while they burn – standard Chanukah candles last about 18 minutes – we should enjoy the latkes and dreidels, the songs and stories that make the holiday beloved.

It would probably be preferable to minimize the gift-giving, perhaps substituting our own acts of tikkun olam – repairing the world – by offering appropriate gifts to the needy and poor, or to organizations whose work is the betterment of life and care of the environment.

Above all, this is a time for family and bridge-building. Watch the lights burn, and instil the light from generation to generation.


Further reading

See the Chanukah article on Judaism 101.

Other festivals

A Pesach recipe to share

Rabbi Robert Jacobs talks about the meaning of Pesach for our personal liberation.

Oranges and water wells

Two modern Pesach rituals, little-known in South Africa, bring a feminist angle to the celebrations. By Rabbi Greg Alexander of Temple Israel, Cape Town.

Sukkot and Simchat Torah

Rabbi Robert Jacobs talks about Sukkot, when the Ohel Mo’ed, the Tent of Meeting, is dedicated.

A time to build a Sukkot midrash

Not long ago, Ron and I were in the final stages of home reconstruction. After months of agonizing trips to Home Depot, the house was nearly at completion. Each step of the redo was a process in and of itself. Who would have known that there are over 100 shades of off-white?At last, at last, there was only one more hurdle to jump. The Los Angeles Building Inspector had to approve the construction and provide permits. When he finished his report, I was shocked to see the dreaded words, “Denied.”I looked at the paperwork in dismay. Here’s what I found:

  1. The roof has many holes and it is leaking
  2. The walls are rotting from the inside out
  3. The structure as a whole is unsuitable for a permanent dwelling
  4. The foundation is not bolted, and it will collapse in an earthquake

I thought for a few minutes, and then it hit me: Holes in the roof, unstable walls, structure not suitable for a permanent dwelling, easily collapsible… The building inspector hadn’t examined my house. He had examined my Sukkah!

At the bottom of the report was a note informing me I had a week to remove it from the premises. “Well,” I thought to myself, “As Sukkot is a week long Festival, I have time to make the best of this structure before taking it down.” Now there is a tradition of inviting special guests, or in Hebrew, ushpizin, for a meal in the Sukkah. I thought it would be fun to host an eclectic mix of community leaders. So I sent out “computer E-vites” and eagerly awaited responses. Imagine my delight when Moses, Tzipporah, Jonah, and Maimonides all RSVP’ed that they could attend! It would certainly be a Festival to remember.

Preparations finished, the big night arrived. The doorbell rang, and I went to greet my first guest. Before me stood a young man whose Mohawk rose at least six inches above his head. There were multiple piercings, and his leather coat smelled like oil. Whale oil. “Yo Rabbi,” he said, “I’m Jonah. I really didn’t want to come. I’m not into authority figures and all that. But I had nothing better to do.” (1) Jonah walked right past my outstretched hand and went straight to my fish tank. He just sat and stared at the water.

The door still open, three people then appeared at the entry, two men and a woman. The men were arguing about the placement of my Mezuzah. The woman looked annoyed. One man then extended his hand and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Rabbi Moishe ben Maiman, but you can call me Maimonides. How kind of you to open your home.”

The other man had a large backpack and a sleeping bag beneath his arm. “Shalom, I’m Moses.” He came close and whispered in my ear, “This is my wife, Tzipporah. She’s not Jewish. Is that ok?”

Tzipporah rolled her eyes and gave me a warm hello. All three came inside. Moses threw his belongings onto the floor, and Maimonides went straight out the back door and into the Sukkah.

“Moses,” I asked, “Uh… what’s the sleeping bag for?”

“Oh, I’m spending the week here,” he answered.

“Excuse me?” I responded.

“Well,” Moses began, “According to what God told me, we are commanded to live in the Sukkah during this Harvest Festival.(2) It’s to remember what the ancestors went through when they crossed the desert. All these commandments! As if Pharaoh’s laws weren’t tough enough. So I figured, if it’s going to last a week, I may as well be as comfortable as possible!” He took out some palm branches, willows, pumpkins, and other assorted harvest-related offerings. “Don’t worry,” Moses went on as he arranged his belongings, “You won’t even know we’re here.”

I stared at Moses with my mouth open.

Tzipporah then spoke up, “I don’t think ‘the ancestors’ were all that interested in grass huts, Moses. And what about theses palm branches? Do you really think they had an abundant vegetation out there in the middle of the desert?”

Moses looked up, “You know, I never really thought of that!” Then he looked at me, “Tzipporah is the more intellectually honest of the two of us. Her father, Yethro, is an international consultant. (3)She grew up learning how to mediate in the toughest of situations. And she’s a great mother. Ironically, she’s the one who makes sure our son gets a good Jewish upbringing.”(4)

I looked over to Jonah, who was still staring at the fish.

Maimonides then re-entered the room with a perplexed look on his face. “Rabbi,” I asked, “Is something wrong?”

Maimonides looked at me and said, “Well, I hate to tell you this, but someone has to… Your Sukkah, it’s not kosher.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, according to my authoritative Talmudic code, the Mishna Torah, the Sukkah can not be placed beneath a tree because you must be able to see the sky through its roof. Yet yours is too close to that big Oak, and its braches are blocking the view. The Mishna Torahforbids anything that smells offensive to hang in the Sukkah, but I think I saw a squash so old that it was growing a tail. And the schach, the covering for the Sukkah, it’s supposed to be made of organic material, not a tarp from L.L. Bean.” (5)

I thought to myself, “Oy vey,Maimonides should get a job with the Los Angeles department of Building and Safety.”

Moses spoke up, “C’mon, Maimonides, what are you talking about? All God told me back in the desert was to observe the festival for seven days and build a little hut to live in. Where do you get all these laws from?”

“Moses,” Maimonides went on, “outside of Israel we observe the Festival for eight days, not seven. Why? Because we want to build a fence around the Torah, (6) to protect the law, to make sure we get it right. You never know if your watch stops and we miss the ordained time of rejoicing. And you’re not supposed to physically live in the Sukkah. Now that is a hardship.”

Moses looked exasperated. “My atomic watch keep precise time, thank you. There’s no need to observe eight days anymore! And you talk of rejoicing? You’ve got to be kidding! How can we rejoice with all these restrictions? Further,” Moses gasped, “The Torah specifically commands us to live in the Sukkah! How can we deny that?”

“You think you’re the only one who has a relationship with God, don’t you?” Maimonides shot back, ” Listen, my friend, the truth is that no one understands God’s intentions better than I do. Look at all this stuff you brought. For heaven’s sake! We’re supposed enjoy the Sukkah by having a meal in it, by decorating it, by studying in it. But living in it is not what God intended.”

Moses just looked at Maimonides with disbelief. He then said to Tzipporah, “And I suppose he’s going to tell us next that cheeseburgers aren’t kosher?!”

For the first time, Jonah spoke up, “Do you all realize how ridiculous you sound? Who cares if God wants us to live or eat or study in the Sukkah? It’s all nonsense. Why should we have to live according to these rules anyway? God told me just the other day to go to Niniveh to deliver a motivational speech. You know what I did instead? I went on a cruise. Ok, ok, it didn’t end up quite as nice as I thought it would. I never expected to be swallowed by a fish. But we can’t go around just blindly following these voices we hear.”

Jonah looked at Moses and said, “Don’t you ever think that maybe, just maybe, you misinterpreted some of the things that God said to you? Judaism isn’t only about what comes down to you from above. Judaism is about how to deal with people on this earth. There’s a lot you can learn from Tzipporah.”

“And before you get too high on yourself, Maimonides,” Jonah continued, “Your ‘definitive’ code of law has room for improvement as well. Other voices have a right to be heard.(7) The two of you spend so much time spewing off hot air that you can’t even hear what you are saying. Why don’t you just be quiet and listen for a change.” (8)

Moses retorted, “Jonah, it’s ok to question, but we can’t run away. We have to face and even challenge the tradition. We can’t just pretend the traditions don’t exist.”

The room grew silent. My four guests all stared at me, and I had no idea what to do.

Just then, we heard a voice sobbing from outside. I opened the door to find a young man, probably no more than twenty years old, dressed in colorful rags and quite emaciated. “Can I help you,” I asked as I led him inside.

“My name is Joseph,” he said. “My family, my eleven brothers and sister, have abandoned me, and I have nowhere to go. I was looking at your Sukkah from the backyard and thought that yours might be a home that provides shelter. I’m a good worker and can help you to build anew from the inside out.” (9)

I looked into this poor boy’s eyes and I saw that his heart was filled with hope and dreams. I then looked to Moses, Tzipporah, and Maimonides. Here we were arguing over the structure of the Sukkah and the laws of Sukkot. Yet we had ignored what belongs at the heart of the Festival. Sukkot is about building order into a world filled with chaos. It’s about a communal journey to strengthen ourselves as individuals and as a people.

Our Sukkah is physically open to the outside world, making it impossible to ignore those without shelter. Sukkot reminds us to give structure to our lives, but not a structure so permanent that we can’t question it. While on Yom Kippur, we put ourselves in God’s hands, during Sukkot we take the world into our own hands. And while on Yom Kippur we tear ourselves down, on Sukkot we begin to build once again.

I set an extra seat around my Sukkot dinner table, and the five of us enjoyed a true Festival meal.

And when they left, I watched as their images blended into the endless mysteries of time. I watched and I thought to myself, “Next year I’ll keep it simple.”

As we read in Ecclesiastes during Sukkot, “There is a time to break down and a time to build up.” (10) Friends, our world has seen enough of breaking down. Yom Kippur in and of itself is about breaking down. Let’s come together to build up, to reach out, to embrace the spirit of Sukkot, and to breathe new life into old rituals. Let us work toward a true “Sukkat Shalom,” a shelter of peace and of wholeness.

You see, Sukkot is only partially about building a structure. The true meaning is about building a community. One person at a time.

Ken Y’hi Ratzon.


(Click on the BACK button to return to your position in the text)

  1. Based on Jonah’s running away from God/ responsibility. Connection to YK
  2. Lv 23:42-43
  3. Based on Ex. 18:15-22
  4. Based on Ex 4:24-26, Tzipporah is the one who circumcises their son
  5. Shulchan Aruch, Orah Hayyim 629-631
  6. Pirkei Avot 1:1
  7. The Mishna Torah does not express the minority view, just the Halacha
  8. Based on Jonah Story: He has fulfilled God’s command to tell the people to do Teshuva
  9. Based on Joseph Story Gn. 37
  10. Ecc. 3:3

A leading roof and rotting walls … likely to collapse during an earthquake
It is at Sukkot that the Ohel Mo’ed, the Tent of Meeting, is dedicated. RABBI ROBERT JACOBS of Bet David looks forward to Succot and Simchat Torah

High Holy Days and
linear time

RABBI ROBERT JACOBS talks about Judaism and the notion of a linear time. PLUS: Some of the rituals around the High Holy Days.

V’samachtem b’chagecha Rejoice at the Festival

Sukkot is known in Jewish literature as heChag – the Festival, although it is only one of the three pilgrimage festivals of the year. The others, Pesach and Shavuot, share with this seven day celebration both literal agricultural meanings and metaphorical religious meanings as part of the annual cycle that traces Jewish peoplehood from physical liberation through Divine revelation to Sacred Communion with God.The Sacred Communion is the special identity of Sukkot, for if Pesach recalls the Exodus from Egypt and its slavery, and Shavuot records ma’amad Har Sinai – standing at Mount Sinai – it is at Sukkot that the Ohel Mo’ed – the Tent of Meeting – is dedicated and put into use.That act of dedication of a tabernacle in which the Ark of the Covenant stood, and where Moses entered regularly through the 40 wilderness years, was the place where God and people would meet. In a continuation of that glorious tradition, King Solomon rehearsed the events of that dedication. It is relatively easy to review these texts as weekly Torah Portions Vayakhel and Pekudei (Exodus 22:1-40:35), and their respective traditional Haftarot (I Kings, chapter 7 & 8). Much later in Jewish history – 165 BCE – the re-dedication at the Feast of Lights – Hanukkah – also found this celebration so compelling that it became the model for that much younger semi-holiday.

Sukkot has a specific structure that is outlined in Leviticus 23:33-36:

“God spoke to Moses saying: ‘Say to the Israelite people: On the 15th day of this seventh month, there shall be the Feast of Booths to Adonai [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days shall you bring offerings by fire to God. On the eighth day, you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to Adonai; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations.”

For Progressive Judaism, which follows the Israeli calendar around the world, there are two Festival days separated by the intermediate days of the festival – chol haMo’ed. The rules of the Festival days, which by tradition are two distinct holidays – Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret-Simchat Torah (see below) – are less rigorous than those for Sabbaths, including both Yom Kippur – whatever day of the week it might fall on – and the Intermediate Sabbath of the Festival during either Sukkot or Pesach.

In the citation above, the sacred occasion observed on the festival limits working at one’s occupation. On Sabbath, that limitation is expanded to “no manner of servile work”. The Sabbath restrictions are known as 39 melachot – the kinds of labour used in building the Ohel Mo’ed and its trappings, often expanded into related actions and activities, as well as the making of any fire. On Festivals and Rosh Hashanah, the tradition offers eruv tavshilin, a virtual start to preparation of food which allows cooking to take place and transfer of fire from an existing flame.

This section of Leviticus continues with more instructions for Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40-43):

“On the first day, you shall take the product of the goodly [hadar] trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of Adonai for seven days in the year; you shall observe it is the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens of Israel shall dwell in booths in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I Adonai, your God.”

Based on these verses, four species native to the land of Israel are customarily carried in procession and waved during the reading of the Hallel, Psalms 113-119, throughout Sukkot and culminating on Hoshanna Rabbah, the concluding intermediate day of the festival on which special pleas for redemption-hoshannot-are to be recited. These four species referred to as the lulav are generally agreed upon as being:

  • Lulav – palm branch
  • Aravah – willow
  • Hadas – myrtle
  • Etrog – citron

They are bundled together, and in Midrash, viewed as representing the body and soul of each person: spine (lulav), eyes (shape of the myrtle leaves), lips (shape of willow leaves) and heart (shape of the etrog). Together, they symbolise the complete connection between Jew and God, between human and nature.

In the Booth-sukkah-it is also customary to recite blessings in this series:

Upon entering the booth:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who makes us holy by commandments and commands us to dwell in booths.

Upon taking up and assembling the four species:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who makes us holy by commandments and commands us to take up the lulav.

Before taking a ‘meal’- a minimum amount of the size of an olive:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who brings forth bread from the earth.

The first occasion on which any of the above occurs:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who has kept us in life, sustained us and brought us to this joyous time.

For those blessed with the luxury of outdoor space, a sukkah can be constructed at home. The booth is a temporary structure with a minimum of three “walls” which can be no less than three handbreadths wide. The booth may be free-standing or use existing walls. Critical is that the stars are visible through the grass-covered roof. The rugged will camp out in this open space; others might use it only at meal times. In any case, the experience of a meal in the sukkah with blessing, songs and good company is a unique experience of public proclamation of Jewish identity and pride.

The days of dwelling in the sukkah end at Hoshanna Rabbah when the four species are carried for the final time. Although the sukkah is left standing, on the separate Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah Festival, life returns indoors to home or synagogue sanctuary. The emphasis shifts then to the cycle of Torah reading, which apparently was fixed through the Italian tradition about a thousand years ago.

On one evening, the last words of Deuteronomy are read by a Chatan Torah – Bride/Bridegroom of the Torah followed immediately by the reading of the opening words from Genesis read by a Chatan B’reishit – Bride/Bridegroom of Genesis. Whether these two chatanim are male or female, it is a high honour to represent the community in its quest to proclaim aloud the centrality of Torah and its covenant.

Simchat Torah is especially to be marked by the physical act of following the Torah scroll as the hakafot-circlings with the Torah-are accomplished. Dancing, singing and rejoicing are all the order of the day, inside and outside the sanctuary, and in many communities even into the courtyards and streets of the town.

The lulav and etrog consist of palm, willow and myrtle branch, and a citron.succah4

The succah is walled on three sides and has branches across the top.


The sky should be visible through the foliage of the roof.

Towards a Succot Midrash

As Rabbi ZACHARY SHAPIRO of Temple Akiba in Los Angeles ponders a construction problem, he receives some unexpected guests …