Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sukkot: The Festival of Booths

Six months ago my friend Judith and I offered a Sukkot dinner at the Micah auction. When these things are just on paper and people are bidding lots of money to attend, you feel like you’ve done something wonderful, not for a moment thinking about how much work it is to make dinner for 35 people!

First of all, what is sukkot? It’s a minor celebration in the Jewish calendar, occurring each fall. It uses the symbols of the harvest to commemorate the time when the Jews lived in booths or tents in the desert. It involves building a structure that is open to the stars, in which people can conceivably live and eat for a week. Whereas the orthodox go for the real thing, our sukkah is usually much more symbolic.

Today was our day of reckoning. Judith and I had divided up the food responsibilities a week or so ago. I was responsible for appetizers, vegetables, and dessert. She had everything else. Her husband Merv and David were in charge of building the sukkah. We really got off easy because it was at their house on 7 acres in Clifton, VA, which seems like totally rural countryside.

What to cook for all those people? I still have a hard time figuring out how to cook for a crowd, coming from my small family. My two labor-intensive things were ratatouille and apple crisp. I thought about Rebecca’s recent comments about the therapy of chopping as I chopped up tons of vegetables for the ratatouille and what seemed to be dozens of apples for the crisp yesterday. But my reward for a morning of serious cooking was my weekly time to play chamber music with my friend Deborah yesterday afternoon. (Deborah suggested that we offer ourselves up to play dinner music in next year's auction. We'll see...)

All the aches and pains from those hours of chopping disappeared during my massage this morning. I picked up French bread and a beautiful chocolate royale cake on my way home. We loaded up our car with all of our food contributions and with our friend Mollie and headed off to Clifton.

Merv and David finished off the sukkah construction, which turned out to be an area under their deck. It was decorated with leaves and gourds and small lights. It was actually very earthy. Merv made a lulav of several kinds of greenery, which we took turns shaking to the north, south, east, and west, probably reminiscent of a pagan ritual of earlier times. We passed the lulav (palm branch in Hebrew)and etrog (acutally a lemon masquerading as an etrog) around. They asked me to light the candles before a brief reading by Merv. I always panic when there is a Jewish ritual for which I am unprepared. I must have had that “What in the hell am I supposed to say?” look on my face, so everyone started the familiar candle-lighting prayer that has a different ending for every occasion and I just faked it. I still sometimes worry that my ignorance will belie my non-Jewish origins!

Then we ate and ate and ate some more. Everyone raved about David’s hummous with ground lamb and toasted pine nuts on top. The children chased each other around the yard and around the house. We sat in small groups as we ate and talked. We were fortunate to be in a group with someone who knows the Clintons quite well and who works for the Democratic National Party in some capacity. He actually sounds both realistic and positive about the next election. Hope springs eternal!

After an evening of being satiated by good food and good company, we divided up the leftovers and piled Mollie and our other friend Florence (age 90) into our car for the trip home. Our auction commitment was finally satisfied, and despite the work, it was really a lot of fun to be with people I like so much on one of the last really beautiful fall days.

1 Comments:

Anonymous dd said...

great summary of a great day!

11:38 PM  

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