My husband is Jewish, and I’m an astronomy fan, so we’re both looking forward to the evening of September 27. That night we’ll get to see a total supermoon eclipse
, when the moon appears larger because its orbit brings it closest to earth. And if we wish, we’ll do it from his sukkah, a structure set up for the Jewish holiday Sukkot.
Those of us who live in the western half of the United States have been lucky enough to have seen three other total lunar eclipses in 2014 and 2015. All three have fallen on one of two Jewish holidays
, Passover and Sukkot.
Passover and Sukkot, in addition to their spiritual meaning, are great reminders of the need to prepare for what’s to come. They can also be good times to review emergency plans, because they take place about six months apart.
If you’ve seen Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments
(“M-o-h-ses!”) you know the origin of Passover. The week-long festival
commemorates God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a new nation, as told in the Book of Exodus in the Bible.
It is one of three biblically-mandated travelling festivals during which Jews once went to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Today Jewish families celebrate at home. However, they still remember the travelling aspect of the holiday.
They eat special Passover matzah, a large cracker with no leaven, a rising agent. Matzah represents the haste with which Israelites left Egypt: so quickly their bread didn’t have time to rise, according to Louis Jacobs in The Book of Jewish Practice
. When modern Jews make matzah, they may only take 18 minutes to roll out and cook the cracker after they add water to the flour. That way, the flour doesn’t have time to produce its own leaven, according to Jacobs.
Today, many disasters can force you to react in less than 18 minutes. Fire, for example.
On July 28, a fire started about 7 miles northwest of Wenatchee, a small city in central Washington. Within half a day the fire grew to almost 4 ½ square miles. Twenty-nine homes burned to the ground that night, according to an official fire report
“The wind changed, and the fire came so quick, that people … had five minutes to get out of the house,” said Karen LuBean, who lives nearby. “Some people were only able to get their purse. They grabbed a few legal documents and stuff like that.”
you prepare “five P’s” for quick evacuation: people, prescriptions, papers, personal needs and priceless items.
Passover could be a good time to prepare those “five P’s” and then practice your preparations.
Sukkot is another travelling holiday from a Biblical commandment. Observant Jews eat and may sleep outside in shelters with roofs made of branches.
“You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall dwell in booths. In order that future generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43)
Booths are not fun if it rains. In fact, tradition says observant Jews should go inside during rain, according to Jacobs. Do you have a place to go if you must leave your home in a weather-related disaster?
Case in point: most emergency shelters won’t take pets, according to the Humane Society of the United States
. If you have pets, you’ll need to ensure before a disaster that you have a place for them to go.
The other half of Sukkot observance is waving four types of plant branches and fruit that ripen in September. Great Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote that the commandment to take those plants is a way to give thanks to God for harvest bounty, according to Jacobs.
September is a traditional time for harvest fairs and winter preparation. It’s also a great time to inventory food and water storage. Children have just started school, so with any luck the house is quieter for a few minutes. In some places, stores have case lot sales with inexpensive bulk items. Sukkot, which falls in September and October, can work as a time to build and inventory short-term and long-term storage.
The Jewish holiday calendar
is a lunar calendar, meaning Jewish holiday dates are based on phases of the moon. Easter is determined the same way
. So, while uncommon, it’s not surprising eclipses occasionally fall on Jewish holidays. Some people see omens in these eclipses. That’s fine. If an eclipse, or four, reminds you to prepare, that’s great. If a holiday works instead, that’s terrific. What’s important is to establish a regular time to prepare and review preparations and then observe that time, well, religiously.
Jacobs, Louis, The Book of Jewish Practice
. Behrman House, Inc., West Orange, NJ, 1987.