I have to admit, our low turn-out for our Sukkot evening service was very disappointing. In my first few years at Temple, average attendance for the night would be over 80 people. I recall it be very uplifting evening. Following a brief outdoor service, kids would frolic on the grass while adults would happily schmooze and enjoy good food and wine. During the evening, the appearance of a full harvest moon was always greeted with pleasure and appreciation.
But in recent years, attendance has steadily declined. I do not clearly know why this is the case. Could it be because the first night of Sukkot was a school night, lowering the number of families wishing to come with children in elementary school? Could it be because Sukkot this year occurred in mid-October and people were concerned that the weather would be chilly? Or is the primary reason for low attendance due to the lack of creativity surrounding the very nature of the evening? Essentially the format was exactly the same as in the past seven years, thus dampening enthusiasm to experience something new and engaging?
Recently, I discovered that I was not the only Reform rabbi whose congregation had a small turn-out for Sukkot. Only in the case of a colleague of mine in Maryland, she posted a question on the Facebook page of the Central Conference of American Rabbis asking what kinds of programs draw a good turn-out at a Reform congregation?
There were a slew of responses by colleagues all over the country who had lots of great suggestions for programs pertaining to Sukkot. Some of them involved food (what a surprise!). A number of congregations on the night of Sukkot serve pizza, calling the evening, “Pizza in the Hut.” Others suggestions included serving hoagies; vegetarian chili and cornbread; or steak and beer. The main point is that serving food is a draw for many people.
Also, there were programmatic suggestions that sounded inviting such as having children and families come and make decorations for the sukkah together. Music could play a large role in the evening by having a campfire like environment, including a song session. Another wonderful idea was to have people bring fruit baskets, symbolic of the harvest, and then later deliver the baskets to older members of the congregation who are unable to attend Temple events at night.
As I read and made notes about all these suggestions from Reform colleagues, I felt my mood lighten. Obviously there are lots of ways to celebrate Sukkot which we can consider doing at Temple Beth Torah. I have already looked ahead in the calendar and see that the first night of Sukkot takes place next year on
Sunday, September 27. I am already looking forward with pleasure to what new way we will celebrate the Jewish harvest festival.