With the conclusion of the Jewish New Year celebrations comes Sukkot—when Jews expose themselves to the elements in greenery-covered huts. 

Sukkot is a week-long Jewish holiday that comes five days after Yom Kippur and celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the miraculous protection God provided for the children of Israel when they left Egypt.

Muslims mark this event on Ashura on 10th of Muharram, first month in the Islamic Calendar with optional fasting on either 9th and 10th or 10th and 11th of Muharram.

Jews celebrate Sukkot in a foliage-covered booth and take special species of vegetation—the palm branch (lulav), willows (aravot), and citron (etrog)— which are neatly bundled together. The etrog is a sweet-smelling citrus fruit grown in Israel. It is held with the lulav and brought both to the Synagogue and the Sukkah, where it is waved in six directions, signifying that God is found everywhere.

The Emanuel School in Randwick had a special Sukkot celebration to which they invited refugees from the Sydney community, among whom were those of Muslim and other faiths. Danny Siegel, Head of Jewish Life at Emanuel, said “Traditionally, the Sukkah has been a place of refuge and a means of providing a sense of belonging for those who might feel marginal to our community.”

The participants were from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Chad, Chile, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Romania, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Africa and the United States. And this included Emanuel students who helped host their guests mixing in with the refugees.

The atmosphere of the event evoked a special feeling of togetherness and the singing of popular songs added a special element to the night.

Philip Feinstein, a regular music visitor to Villawood Detention Centre, used his music prowess as the backing track for the singing. “It was lovely to see the students playing percussion instruments and interacting with our guests” added Shira Sebban, one of the main organisers. “It certainly made for a most meaningful Sukkot celebration.”

In the words of student Tomer Belkin: “Sukkot serves to remind us of the importance of experiences, positive and negative, in our ultimate journeys. It also reminds us that material possessions, whilst to some are important and necessary, are just temporary. We should take solace in the relationships we make, and the things we feel, because there will come a time when we may no longer have what we do now.”

Some of the comments at the end of the evening demonstrated the importance of mixing together . . . . Hadi A (Iranian): “A great pleasure of sharing and caring” . . . .  Maria (Somalian): “It felt like home – may God bless you” . . . . Sonia (Australian): “I will forever cherish the conversations and the friendships I made” . . . . Asif, Nui and baby Daniel H: “It was very good to learn something new about your culture” . . . . . Hadi P (Iranian): “It was a special night for me and my sister, Sareh – I wish one day we can visit Israel and its people”.

Danny Siegel concluded with some wonderful words: “Our teachers, parents, students and our new friends experienced a sense of fulfillment which is integral to this holiday of ‘Ingathering’ (another name for Sukkot). In embracing others within our Sukkot we felt embraced as well.”

The evening ended with a vote of thanks to the wonderful Jewish hosts.