A little bit of Israel in Jasper





Originally published in The Ferdinand News, Section A

Last week, Dr. Richard Moss of Jasper very eloquently explained some of the holiday traditions of his Jewish faith to Ferdinand News readers.

Then he went one better.

Dr. Moss and his wife, Ying, invited friends to their home last Friday night to share in the third holiday of a religious trilogy that began with Rosh Hashana and continued with Yom Kippur.

Included among the guests was one lowly journalist (me), a "Cradle Catholic" with very little knowledge of the scriptures that shaped his (and incidentally, my) faith.

The holiday, known as Sukkot, was new to me, ' al-though it is mentioned several times in both the old and new testaments. As Dr. Moss explained it, Sukkot is quite liter-ally Feast of the Booths, or Feast of the Jews.

In keeping with its name, celebrants of Sukkot set up a three sided "booth" with a very loosely thatched roof. Many Jews visit their Synagogue at Sukkot, much as Christians go to church fir religious holidays.

However, Dr. Moss decided to celebrate this holy day at home, which would allow his family and non-Jewish friends to participate.

I arrived at 6 p.m. and hesitantly rapped on the door of the Mosses palatial red brick two-story home. The hesitant rap was not shyness - I just couldn't see the address number and was not sure I was at the right house.

But it was Dr. Moss himself who opened the door and bade me welcome.

We passed through the house to the patio, where he introduced me to a man named Kevin from Ferdinand. "Had we ever met?" Dr. Moss wondered. The answer was no.

Turns out it was Kevin Wilson, who, along with his wife, Tammy, had been invited to the celebration after Kevin called Dr. Moss to chat after reading his article. We struck up a conversation about life in general and Sukkot in particular. The Wilsons have been exploring both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Soon, it was time for the ceremony to being. The Mosses had adorned their sukkah with fruits and vegetables dangling from strings attached to the roof. A table overlaid with a lovely cloth held two crystal candlesticks, bowls filled with more fruits and vegetables, wine, glasses and loaves of challah, rich white braided bread which is served during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. A bundle of what looked liked long twigs or small branches had been laid to the fore, next to what appeared to be a lumpy lemon.

The lemon turned out to be a fruit called esrog and the branches were indeed that, made up of palm, willow and myrtle. Everything, included the booth, had been shipped from Israel and each item bore a very special place in the ceremony that followed.

Dr. Moss asked his two oldest children, Arielle and Noah, to help with the ceremony. After completing a ritual with the branches and esrog and reading from the Old Testament, Noah passed out chunks of the Challah and Arielle offered cups of wine (grape juice for the kids).

In a surreal way, this felt just like church - not the presumed-to-be different religious ceremony of Hebrews but offertory in the Catholic Church. The altar, the bread, the wine, the giving of thanks for a magnificent harvest, the coming together of family and friends in a celebration of faith - well, you get the picture. The language was Hebrew but no more foreign than the Latin of my youth.

After concluding the ceremony, Dr. Moss invited everyone to partake of the lavish buffet his wife had organized.

Since the line was long, I took the opportunity to explore the Mosses recently renovated at-tic and wander through some of the rooms.

The home is a lovely blend of traditional decor with subtle touches of the Orient in honor of Ying's heritage. Several menorrahs line book shelves and a magnificent family tree - painted with pictures of several generations-graces a wall in the family room.

I indeed felt blessed to have been invited to such a joyous and time honored celebration of faith.

The following day, I received an e-mail from Kevin Wilson providing some background of Sukkot: "God told the people of Israel that they should live in booths [temporary dwellings], for seven days so that the generations would know that His people lived in booths when He brought them out of Egypt [symbolic of the 40-year journey of ancient Israelites to find the promised land]. Each Sukkot, the Jews build and dwell or eat in booths or temporary dwellings for seven days - a joyful celebration of thanksgiving."

In addition to providing scripture references to Sukkot, Kevin explained: "There is also evidence supporting the belief that Jesus was born during the Feast of Sukkot because He was born in the late fall in a "booth", (which is where the manger scene may have been taken from). Historically, it is believed that the Romans were holding the census (during Sukkot be-cause that is when the people . would have been traveling to their home districts and it was Roman practice to hold census during Holy seasons in order to get the most accurate counts. It is also believed that Christ would have been born in a Sukkah (singular form of Sukkot), rather than among barn animals."

For me, the opportunity to share in this lovely holy day/ holiday just confirmed what I have always believed: We are all one under God.



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