Our Succot Traditions
Succot, Zeman Simhatenu, is truly joyous at Shearith Israel. Services during the Succot festival include the Hakafot, when congregants hold their Lulabim and Etrogim and march in an impressive procession around the Reader’s Desk. Following services, kiddush is held in our Elias Room Succah. This succah, renowned for its beauty, was constructed as part of the Elias Social Room, whose ceiling can be opened electronically so that the succah can be under the sky. The succah is maintained by the Shearith Israel Sisterhood.
On the eve of Hoshaana Rabbah, the seventh day of Succot, the Congregation holds a mishmarah gathering in the Succah, where congregants study Torah and chant the closing portions of the book of Deuteronomy and the opening chapter of Genesis. On the morning of Hoshaana Rabbah, services include the Hakafot—where congregants make seven circuits around the Reader’s Desk while chanting prayers sung to melodies associated with the High Holy Days. Whereas the Reader’s Desk and Torah scrolls are dressed in pastel colors during the Succoth festival, they are switched to white on Hoshaana Rabbah, linking this day with the symbols of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipput. Hoshaana Rabbah is traditionally thought to be the closing of the period of Divine judgment that characterize the High Holy Day season.
On the morning of Shemini Hag Atseret, the services include the Geshem prayer for rain, one of the musical highlights of the Shearith Israel liturgy.
On the evening of Simhat Torah, the services include the Hazan’s rendition of Tenu Shebaha, a magnificent melody in honor of the Hatanim.Tenu Shebaha was composed by Shearith Israel’s Hazan Jacques Judah Lyons, who served the Congregation from 1839 until his death in 1877. Following services, congregants participate in the procession of Torah scrolls around the synagogue, in a spirit of celebration of this festive holiday. A parallel Hakafot ceremony for women is held in the Little Synagogue, accompanied by a choir of women congregants.
Since the early 1970s, the congregation has sponsored a special ice cream party following services on the eve of Simhat Torah. Children—as well as adults—enjoy this event, adding to the joyous atmosphere of Simhat Torah at Shearith Israel.
Each year, the Trustees designate two men to serve as Hatanim—Hatan Torah and Hatan Bereshit. The Hatan Torah is called to the Torah on the morning of Simhat Torah, at which time the yearly cycle of Torah readings is completed with the closing passages of Deuteronomy. The Hatan Bereshit is called to the Torah for the reading of the opening passages of Genesis. Thus, the new cycle of Torah readings begins. On Shabbat Bereshit, the Hatanim are honored during synagogue services as well as at a luncheon held thereafter.