Overnight, it seemed as if Baltimore began a frenzy of building. Out came the boards and metal poles, sheets of canvas and vinyl, bamboo poles and mats, clusters of fruits and colorful decorations. Sukkot is here!
For thousands of years, Jews have erected temporary huts, which bec-ome our homes for the week of this beautiful holiday. The weather is usually lovely, inviting us to be outdoors. Sukkot offers a wonderful opportunity for families to gather around the dinner table, under the stars. For a few days, we can put aside the distractions of TV, the computer and household chores and celebrate the holiday and our blessings. Even though the sukkah is fragile, it’s the opportunity for family to be together that gives it stability. Because the sukkah is a modest and simple structure, we can focus on the important people in our lives — the people in our family.
The primary way of fulfilling the mitzvah of “dwelling” in the sukkah is eating festive meals there. This year, as we celebrate Sukkot, let’s take note of Family Day on Sept. 23. This national day of observance, organized by CASA (the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University) is a way to raise awareness among parents that they possess powerful tools to keep their children substance-free. One of the best ways to do this is the simple act of having dinner with your children.
Research has consistently found that the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. They are also more likely to earn good grades in school and maintain good communication with their parents.
Jews have traditionally emphasized the family table as the focal point of family and spiritual strength. Shabbat and holiday dinners are highlights of our weekly and yearly calendar. We can now add another critical reason for sharing meals, recognizing the valuable opportunities they offer for family conversations in which parents can encourage questions, listen to what’s on their children’s minds and guide them to make choices that will keep them safe and healthy.
This year, let’s make the most of the chance Sukkot offers for us to take time, in the midst of our hectic lives, to strengthen our relationships. Even after the sukkah is dismantled and stored away, we can bring the experience of being together in this intimate space back into our homes. The benefits extend throughout the year. This is one powerful way to nurture the well-being of our children and our whole family.
Susan Kurlander (left photo) is health educator and Gail Lipsitz is public relations coordinator at Jewish Community Services. For more Parent Talk articles, resources for parents and the JCS Parent Discussion Series, visit jcsbaltimore.org/parenting.