Sukkot Far Away
Among The Caucasian Jews
In the mountain region of the Caucasus, which is now part of the Soviet Union, Jews have dwelt since very ancient times. There is, in fact, a tradition among the native Jews that they are descendants of the Ten Tribes, and that their ancestors came to live there after the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes was destroyed by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria.
There is also a small number of European Jews who came to live there within the last one hundred years. Among them were some Lubavitcher Chassidim who were sent there by their Rabbi to open yeshivot and Talmud Torahs. Thus, there was a Lubavitcher yeshivah in the town of Kutais. In that city, as well as in the city of Tiflis, most of the Jews live. Their number is about 25,000. They speak an old dialect of Georgian; they are engaged in trade and crafts, and generally look like the non-Jewish population.
On the day before Sukkot, non-Jewish farmers bring into town bundles of newly-cut green branches of needle trees (fir and pine), which they carry on donkeys, to sell to the Jews as s'chach (covering for the Sukkah).The Caucasian Jews build simple, small Sukkot, out of four poles which they stick into the ground, with the walls also made of branches.
Some make their Sukkot in their yards, others --on the roof. The Sukkah is small, just about large enough for two or three men, the male members of the family to get in and have their meals there. They do not decorate the Sukkah. Their Rabbi spends the whole week in the Sukkah, also sleeping in it, unless heavy rain compels him to go back to the house to sleep.
The Jews are too poor to be able to afford a lulav and etrog for each family. So they have a "communal" lulav for each synagogue. It is usually brought in from near-by Persia. The etrog is brought into the synagogue with great respect and love. It is placed on a shiny brass tray, and every one in turn takes the lulav and etrog and kisses it lovingly, then makes the blessing, waves it, kisses it again and puts it down for the next fellow-Jew to do the same. Before long the etrog can hardly be recognized from so much handling and kissing.
On the night of Shemini Atzeret they make a great feast, and spend most of the night rejoicing, until the time arrives to hold the morning service. The women, too, make their own parties and celebrate the happy festival in their own way.
The Jews of Daghestan are known as the "Mountain Jews." They live in the mountains of the Republic of Daghestan, which belongs to the same Caucasian region. Like their other Caucasian Jewish brethren, they have lived here from most ancient times, and they, too, believe they are descendants of the Ten Tribes. They speak a Jewish dialect of Persian.
They are tall, strong and picturesque, and engage in farming, cattle raising and tanning (leather-making). In olden times they lived in separate villages of their own. Now they mix more with the non-Jewish population, but they cling to their Jewish faith and are proud to be Jews.
The Jews of Daghestan love to make beautiful Sukkot, which they decorate with fine handsome rugs and carpets, at which they are experts. The etrogim and lulavim are brought in from Persia, or the southern part of, Russia. After prayer they greet each other joyfully and invite each other to their Sukkot for refreshments.
Thus each day of Sukkot is a happy day, and a good time is had by all.
On the night of Hoshana Rabba they get together in the synagogue, light candles, and the learned among them read for them the Book of Deuteronomy, and they recite the whole Book of Psalms. At dawn they hold their morning service, recite Hoshanas and go with hakafot seven times, much in the same way as we do.
On the night of Shemini Atzeret they also have hakafot (as in most Russian communities). The women watch from the gallery, their faces hidden behind veils and kerchiefs, while the boys congregate in the center of the synagogue and kiss the scrolls of the Torah. All the men and boys dance with the Torah joyfully, and recite prayers and hymns in strange melodies and tunes.
Among The Kurdish Jews
The Kurdistan country and mountains belong partly to Persia and Iraq and partly to Turkey. Here, too, Jews have lived from very ancient times, and they believe that their ancestors belonged to the exiled Ten Tribes. They number about 15,OOO and engage in farming and cattle raising. Some Kurdish Jews have emigrated to the Holy Land, where they have communities of their own, and have preserved their customs, language and dress.
The Kurdish Jews are tall and muscular. They look very much like the Muslims, for they dress in the same manner. They wear heavy turbans on their heads, broad pants, with a wide belt, or girdle around their shirts, which have long sleeves and are worn over their pants. The women, too, wear roomy blouses with heavy belts, and balloon trousers. Their heads are covered with turbans, with thick black braids falling over their shoulders. The Kurdish Jews, both men and women, look very impressive in their festive dress, especially on the Sabbaths and festivals.
They pray in simple synagogues, sitting on rugs. Before entering the synagogue they take off their footwear. In the Sukkah, too, they sit on rugs, as at home.
Among them, as among the Caucasian Jews, there are two types: the Jews who live in the valleys, and the Jews who live in the mountains. The "Mountain Jews" are darker in skin, and have black hair. They grow beards that they never cut or trim, so that many of them look fierce in their garb with their daggers at their sides.
Their customs are similar to those of the Babylonian and Baghdad Jews. On the Sabbath and festivals, especially during Sukkot, they make merry and rejoice very heartily.
Aden is a sea-port on the Red Sea, belonging to Great Britain. The Jews here must have been among the earliest settlers. Some five hundred years ago, the great Rabbi Obadiah of Bartinuro) wrote that there had come to Jerusalem "Jews from the land of Eden . . . The Jews there are dark brown. They are not much acquainted with the Talmud, but only with Rabbi Alfasi) and Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon')
Before the last World War there were seven synagogues in Aden, and the Jewish population numbered several thousand. The native Jews are chiefly reed-workers, mat-weavers, masons, jewelers, bookbinders and porters. They eat mostly vegetables, dates, and fish, and drink wine. The women wear a veil (like Mohammedan women), shirt, trousers and a wig (sheitel). The men wear shirt, kilt, prayer fringes, waistcoat and a long loose upper garment with a girdle around the waist.
When Sukkot comes, the Jewish quarter of Aden appears like one green garden. For on the crowded rooftops there are many Sukkot, covered with green s'chach. The Jews of Aden sleep in their Sukkot, for in any case many Jews sleep on the roof because it is cooler there. Many Sukkot are beautifully decorated. Multi-colored cloths are hung on the walls, and from the Sukkah roof hang apples, pomegranates and etrogim, filling the air with a pleasant fragrance.
The Jews of Aden love to sit in their Sukkot. The meals last a long time, and are accompanied by songs and melodies, some in Hebrew, some in Arabic, and at night, all the Sukkot are ablaze with light and color, shining through beautiful glass lamps, imported from India.
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