The current harvest holiday of Sukkot is a perfect match for persons with special needs – the many physical and concrete symbols of the holiday are tangible, and multi-sensory, plus there’s some fun Hebrew songs. Compared to teaching the “why” of Yom Kippur, especially, for someone who is exempt from fasting for medical reasons, it’s a piece of cake. And with 8 nights, there’s lots of room for repetition of the key blessings.
Over the years, Danny’s favorite part of the holiday is what we have come to call the “lulav parade” when the congregants march around the synagogue in a large circle, holding the etrog citrus and lulav (palm frond plus willow and mytle). According to the Jewish Virtual Library, these processions, known as the “Hoshanahs,” commemorate similar processions around the alter of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The first time Danny did the “parade” in his walker, it was like completing a physical therapy goal.
Our home-grown sukkah has 20-year old wooden sides, covered by sheets that my late mother had painted with her fabric paints when the kids were young. Her spirit lives on in the painted decorations of fruit, flowers and birds, even though the sheets are starting to develop holes and frayed edges. Danny gets very excited when it is time to put it up, and “helps” hammer in a nail or two. He is also a little sad when the holiday ends and we have to return to eating in the mundane kitchen.
The main problem is tying to explain the holiday to Danny’s teachers and aides at public school, who can’t figure out why Danny is missing school (yet again) and that the holiday involves a lot of shaking of a palm frond and hanging out in a hut in the backyard. This is one holiday that is easier to observe and fully celebrate in Israel, when the whole country is on vacation and eating in a sukkah.