A Special Place to Sit 8 Days Each Fall

Historically related, but less well known than the Spring festival of Passover’s retelling of the Exodus, is the Fall festival of Sukkot (pronounced sooKOTE). Eight days long, it traditionally requires “dwelling” in small, crude, temporary huts, with roofs open to the elements and sky. (Because the roof of a sukkah is often made of wooden slats and greenery—for me, ivy and hemlock from my yard–it must have been the original green roof technology without, of course, the stormwater mitigation and energy conservation benefits we value today.) I typed dwelling in quotes because it’s become common, at least among many of my friends, to fulfill our dwelling obligation by having meals in a sukkah but not spending the nights.

There is, for me, an especially important environmental aspect of Sukkot, which is more than a commemoration of the biblical 40 years of wandering through the wilderness; it’s also a celebration of the fall harvest and, so, nature’s bounty, our impact on the environment (and on farm workers), and our sacred obligation (tikkun olam) to help fix what’s ailing the environment.

As I took about three hours last week to construct and decorate my sukkah—using wood originally cut many years ago and often replaced and reinforced following occasional storms that have blown it down—I thought about the eight days of moments I’d soon enjoy, whether alone or, better, with family and friends, looking through the roof and pondering the cosmos and our earthly place within it. What with the great weather this time of year, and a glass of wine, what could be better—more serene, more contemplative, more appreciative of nature, more challenging, more enjoyable?

How does your religion interacts with your thoughts about the environment and nature?

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, many as a reservist, gave him a different look at government service.

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