Check Out Article about Sukkah Fest in the Gazette!

By LAURIE LOISEL @LaurieLoisel

Sunday, October 12, 2014 
(Published in print: Monday, October 13, 2014)

http://www.gazettenet.com/search/13876570-95/sukkot-festival-at-congregation-bnai-israel-brings-jewish-community-back-to-its-agrarian-roots

NORTHAMPTON — Men, women and children walked around in the golden-hued, sun-dappled side yard of Congregational B’nai Israel Sunday afternoon wearing crowns of greenery festooned with multi-colored flowers.

It was all part of the synagogue’s Sukkot Festival, but in the words of Rabbi Jacob Fine, who was wearing one decorated with a pastel-colored rose in the center, the crowns held “no deep meaning — just fun.”

The rest of the Sukkot Festival, though, offered plenty of both — deep meaning and fun.

Around 400 people turned out for the afternoon festival, where music played and children snacked on cider slushies and smoothies made from a blender powered by a stationary bicycle.

The Sukkot Harvest Festival, according to Fine, is the third and most significant of harvest festivals on the Jewish calendar.

“The Jewish tradition in its roots is an agrarian, land-based tradition,” said Fine, director of Jewish life and Abundance Farm at the synagogue. Abundance Farm, with its expansive vegetable and fruit garden in the back and orchard of fruit and berry trees in the front was an appropriate setting for the Sukkot Festival.

Fine said he sees initiatives like the farm and harvest festivals such as Sukkot as a way to reconnect the congregation with its agrarian past.

“Part of what we’re trying to do with this project is to restore that knowledge, and the observances and celebrations and connection to the natural world,” said Fine.

As if to demonstrate how well received that effort is, synagogue member Marcia Burick stopped by to thank Fine and congratulate him for organizing the festival.

“If there could have been anything like this when my children — who are in their 50s — were young,” said Burick. “The fun, the community spirit around it, the celebration. It’s such a positive experience for religious education.”

Fine said he believes it is important for modern-day Jews to focus on their agrarian past. “Judaism has become so detached from the natural world — it’s lost a lot of its earthiness,” said Fine. “We’re trying to bring to life in a real, experiential way those parts of Jewish tradition that are rooted in the land and natural cycles.”

At a wood-fired outdoor oven, Adam Garretson was keeping an eye on the final two of the 25 loaves of bread he baked for the festival, which he said were a huge hit.

“It’s gone,” he said of the bread. “There has been a line for most of the day.”

Among those enjoying his efforts were his daughter, Talia, 5, and son Asher, 7.

Garretson said he is not a professional bread-baker, but he bakes bread for his family at home.

“His children refuse to eat anything but Daddy-bread,” said his wife, Stephanie Silverman.

Among the attractions at the festival were face painting, apple-cider pressing, a table offering herbal teas, booths offering produce from local farms and falafel snacks from the Holyoke Hummus Company. Anyone artfully inclined made mosaics of colored dry beans with kidney, pinto, black and white beans, lentils and green peas.

Fine said Abundance Farm — a collaboration of the synagogue, Lander Grinspoon Academy and the Northampton Survival Center — has been a success this year in growing and harvesting and delivering fresh produce to the nearby Survival Center to give to its clients.

But he hopes in the coming years to provide a pick-your-own option for those who travel to the Survival Center for food supplies.

It’s all part of his mission to get people in closer connection with the earth and its natural rhythms.

Laurie Loisel can be reached at lloisel@gazettenet.com.