For the uninitiated – such as me prior to lunch today — the following highly informative explanation comes courtesy of Jonathan:
"Sukkot is a week-long Jewish festival that occurs two weeks after the start of the Jewish New Year. One of the distinctive features of this holiday is the building of temporary hut (called a Sukkah) with a partially open-air roof made of organic materials, such as leaves or bamboo. The Sukkah is often decorated with harvest themes such as fruits or flowers. It is most commonly used for eating meals, but some people will even sleep in the Sukkah for the duration of the festival. The Sukkah commemorates the temporary dwellings that the Israelites inhabited when they wondered in the Sinai desert after leaving Egypt. But at a deeper and perhaps more relevant level, the sukkah represents the transient nature of life, as demonstrated time and time again throughout history."
On to the specific festivities in the Wharf. When we arrived I was surprised by both the size of the Sukkah and the length of the queue leading into it. A tidy line filing into a cube-shaped, posh looking shack.
Having learnt a bit of the background of Sukkah in the queue, we entered beneath the bamboo laden ceiling (a tradition), past the man carrying various foliage and a citrus fruit (a tradition) and a very evident fire extinguisher (you guessed it, another tradition, although it is possible Jonathan was joking at this point). Inside was a large single room beautifully decked out with flowers and lights above lines of thin tables in the middle and side tables extravagantly laden with kosha luncheon and desert.
Populating the tables were rows and rows of people, with others standing all around. Men in kippahs (I was very happy to have borrowed one), women and children. There was a merry, festive atmosphere and we had a great time. A light weight speech from one of the arrangers was the only noticeable bit of centralised ceremony. His joke about the counsel threatening to take down the unapproved building if it had not been removed within a week went down well, the crux being that by custom the Sukkah has to be taken down at the end of the festivities and that it would be great to have help from the counsel in doing this...
As we left this place of community and custom my normal work mood had risen to a jovial place and I was only sad that I could not come back for the climax of Sukkot. On the final two days work is outlawed and drink nigh on compulsory. It is meant to be one heck of a time.
Another time I hope. Chag Sameach