Sunday, September 19, 2010

Good Samaritan. Great Sukkah!

It takes a good Samaritan to come up with a creative solution on how to commemorate holiday customs while at the same time avoid persecution. That’s exactly what happened with the Samaritans’ building of a Sukkah. However, before I divulge this unusual custom, let’s first examine the origins of today’s Samaritans.

While the phrase "A Good Samaritan" is commonly associated with Christian beliefs and a kindly person in a Jesus parable, Samaritans – Shomronim in Hebrew – actually hail from Samariah, or as it is called in Israel, the Shomron. The Samaritan religion is an ancient form of Judaism. It is monotheistic, believing in the God of Israel and the Five Books of Moses, in addition to adhering to the ways of the Torah. In fact, the Samaritans claim that they are the real thing – their faith is the true religion of the ancient Israelites. Despite the Babylonian Exile, they remained in the Land of Israel, practicing the religion as laid down in the Torah, while Diaspora Jews developed their own Talmudic codes.

The Samaritans started out as a large people but their numbers shrank, especially under Byzantine rule when they were severely persecuted. It is precisely at this point that they began their unusual Sukkah tradition. In order to avoid persecution and vandalism by their neighbors, the Shomronim resorted to building their Sukkot indoors. A tradition that started out for reasons of safety has today evolved into an event of exceptional beauty. Today’s Samaritans – all 700 of them – continue to build their Sukkot inside their homes, with many erecting permanent wall and ceiling mounts for assembling the sukkah frame. The ceiling mount is especially strong since Samaritans create the most unusual and breathtaking, enormous ceiling fruit montages from large, colorful, succulent fruits. Picture themes are developed, with each Sukkah decoration connected to an associated topic. In essence, a Samaritan Sukkah is a spectacular work of art and a major attraction for Israelis who come to enjoy the colorful setting and experience warm Samaritan hospitality. Israelis who do not want to travel beyond the Green Line need not go to Samariah for such an event. Since 1954, half of the Samaritan community has been living in Holon – a city adjoining Tel Aviv. The remaining half live in the village of Kiryat Luza on Mount Grizim, above the West Bank city of Nablus (in Hebrew, the biblical Sh’khem).

Can you adapt this custom to your classroom? Absolutely. All it takes is a little creativity. Since you can’t mount live fruit montages of Samaritan magnitude, how about making fruit montage sculptures based on a specific theme and hold a Sukkah exhibit? Alternatively, have your students draw wall hangings of fruit montages and display the fruits of their labor. If not this year, then next, and may your creative juices bear the fruits of your labor.
Chag Sameach…Tami

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