Sukkot is the holiday that celebrates the autumn harvest. The last of the three annual pilgrimage festivals on the Jewish calendar (if we’re counting from Pesach), these were the days in ancient times when our ancestors would gather the best of their seasonal produce and travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to give thanks as a community. In modern times, the communal table often takes the place of the Temple, bringing people together to give thanks for the abundance of the harvest. At the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center’s Sukkahfest more than a hundred people from all denominations of Judaism come together to celebrate and give thanks for the fruits of the season. Participants are able to see firsthand the source of their sustenance, with opportunities to visit our farm, orchard, and barnyard. Another way to show gratitude for the abundance of the harvest, and to continue to feed oneself with locally grown produce through the colder months, is preservation.
When I participated in the Adamah Fellowship at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in the fall of 2006, I remember feeling such amazement at the way that the High Holidays perfectly lined up with the agricultural calendar. I arrived at the farm just in time to see summer turn into fall — to harvest the last of the tomatoes and eggplants, clear out old cucumber and summer squash plants and begin to put the field “to bed,” planting cover crop and spreading manure to ensure fertile soil for the next growing season. As we celebrated the New Year, we dipped the first of the season’s apples into honey and feasted upon the frost-sweetened storage crops of the season: carrots, beets, and potatoes.