Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Succot in Baghdad, now and then

US soldiers inside the succah at the Balad army base in Iraq

Succot is the festival where Jews are enjoined to live in structures open to the sky to recall the forty years which the Children of Israel spent in the desert before being allowed to enter the Promised Land.

This is how the US army has been celebrating the Festival of Tabernacles in Iraq.

But how was it for the Jews who sojourned 2,700 years in the Land of the Two Rivers?

A friend remembers how, each year, her family would erect a succah composed of four upright wooden beams in the middle of the garden in Baghdad. The walls consisted of date palm leaves tied at the top and base to horizontal beams. Pomegranates and oranges hung from the roof. The roof had a trellis, but it too was bedecked with palm leaves. The whole succah was decorated with coloured lights. My friend remembers there was a large table in the centre and divans on three sides of the succah so that the family could sleep there.

Of course the weather was still very warm and there was never any risk of the downpours that make Succot so ill-suited to northern European climes. But the first rains would follow soon afterwards and Muslims were overheard telling each other: "the feast of the Jews must be over!"

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