November 21, 2019

Happiest Days on Earth

One year on Sukkot, as Rabbi Yitzchok Summers watched his kids bounce through the play structures at Camp Snoopy in Knott’s Berry Farm, a park employee approached him to ask if this was a special group trip.

While the most direct answer was no, the proliferation of Jewish families at the theme park that week did have something to do with group affiliation.

All of the families were celebrating Chol Hamoed Sukkot, the intermediate five days between the first two days of Sukkot and the final two days of the festival, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Chol Hamoed, which translates as the common days of the holiday, presents a unique situation in Jewish observance. While most of the technical and legal prohibitions of Shabbat or Yom Tov are lifted, the aura of festivity should be maintained.

That is why many people dress in holiday clothes for Chol Hamoed, and a growing number even take off from work.

“It’s a bridge time, a time for connecting the spiritual and the physical,” says Summers, rabbi of Anshe Emes Synagogue on Robertson Boulevard. “The idea is that Torah is a perfect balance to take the physical and infuse the spiritual, and that is what Chol Hamoed is,” he says.

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Judea in Tarzana says the weeklong festival of Sukkot, from Yom Tov through Chol Hamoed, is a time for families and friends to gather not only to observe the holiday, but to enjoy the peacefulness of sitting together in a sukkah.

“In the middle of our crazy lives we have this commandment to dwell in a sukkah, to sit and eat together, and that is a wonderful thing,” Moskovitz says.

He says every year more families buy sukkah kits from the synagogue, and he and Rabbi Donald Goor make sure to visit each sukkah.

Sha’arei Am: The Santa Monica Synagogue is holding a sukkah festival on Sunday, where about 400 members will gather in the park. They will be divided into tribes, and each group will receive raw materials for constructing and decorating a sukkah.

Beyond the organized celebration, Rabbi Jeff Marx says he too sees a growing number of his congregants bringing the holiday home, celebrating with family and friends the entire week.

The Summers, like many other families, use Chol Hamoed as a time for a family vacation. They also host a homemade sukkah carnival for kids from the shul.

And, of course, there are the trips to theme parks. Summers says in the past five or six years, a spontaneous minyan for afternoon services has convened at Knott’s Berry Farm, with about 30 or 40 people. Chabad’s Sukkah-Mobile usually ends up at Disneyland for the many families spending Chol Hamoed with Mickey and Pooh.

And this year, one group organized separate days for men and women at Soak City, USA, Knott’s Berry Farm’s water park.

Rabbi Pesach and Debbie Wachsman, who run Los Angeles Girls Israel Torah Tours, set up the two days as a fundraiser for their educational group.

Male lifeguards will be on duty Thurs., Oct. 19, while women will have the run of the place Wed., Oct. 18. A sukkah will be available (Tickets are $22 at the door, call 818-763-8755 for more information).
“It’s a very special time,” Summers says. “It forces people who are otherwise so busy to do fun things like this.”