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Asking the Clergy: What is the spiritual side of the fall harvest season?

From left, Rabbi Aaron Marsh of Oceanside Jewish

From left, Rabbi Aaron Marsh of Oceanside Jewish Center, the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of Congregational Church of Patchogue, and Narinder Kapoor,member of Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island. Credit: Carrie Rolnick; Jeffrey Basinger; Narinder Kapoor

For Long Island’s faithful, fall harvest time encompasses more than farm-stand road trips, holiday shopping and Thanksgiving feasting. This week’s clergy discuss the spiritual side of a season of religious festivals and holidays, and reflections on the cycle of nature.

Rabbi Aaron Marsh

Oceanside Jewish Center

In Judaism, the fall harvest is marked by the weeklong Sukkot holiday. It is a time of rejoicing, and a unique feature is dwelling in temporary, open-roofed booths where we eat and, ideally, even sleep (weather-permitting). Placing ourselves in a fragile, temporary shelter subject to wind, rain and animals helps us reconnect with nature outside our technology-filled homes.

I find that being out in nature, subject to its whims, helps me appreciate its beauty and wonder; to realize how much we take for granted. Sukkot is also tied to water: the abundant rain needed for the next harvest. Too often, we view clean water as unlimited — just turn on the tap! In reality, water is not always so readily available. There have been droughts even in parts of the United States, harming agriculture, and we feel the knock-on effects.

Rain might seem like an inconvenience, but many farmers long for it. Getting outdoors in the fall, whether admiring foliage, having a meal or just walking, helps us reconnect with and appreciate the cycles of nature. It reminds us how we and nature impact each other; how we must take care to conserve and protect the precious and beautiful world we have inherited.

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter

Pastor, Congregational Church of Patchogue

Spring is supposedly about birth, blooming and growing, like flowers reaching for the sun, and fall, dying, withering and falling like leaves back to the earth.

Spring brings weddings, graduations and parades. Fall brings Halloween, skeletons and graveyards. The day after Halloween is All Saints’ Day — when we remember and honor the dead.

Which season is more spiritual? Both are equally spiritual. The Bible says, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die …" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2) But Mother Earth has not died, at least not yet. She rests and readies herself to reawaken and begin the cycle of seasons once again.

Meanwhile, as squirrels ration acorns, bears prepare to hibernate and humans prepare autumn recipes, sunlight grows short and our sleeves grow long. It is appropriate that fall passes through Halloween and All Saints’ Day on its way to Thanksgiving. Despite our differences, losses and transgressions, life beckons us to rest, and give and say thanks in this blessed season.

Narinder Kapoor

Member, board of directors, Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island

The Hindu faith is intertwined with nature. We worship rivers, mountains, fire, air, Mother Earth and sky. Because Hinduism profoundly believes in the spirituality of the natural world, almost all Hindu festivals involve the adoration of nature.

Harvest season, for instance, is a period of festivity, dancing and chanting hymns, when festivals stress the importance of basic foods from crops that come to maturity this time of year. Diwali, celebrated this year on Nov. 4 and sometimes called The Festival of Light, celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil.

On Long Island, Hindus decorate their homes with strings of lights. We socialize at meals where we eat vegetarian food made with cauliflower, okra, spinach, paneer (cottage cheese), rice, roti flatbread and spices from Long Island Indian stores, complemented with ladoo, a dumpling made with flour, sugar and barfi, a milk-based sweet. At the temple we talk about how to live a good life.

Navaratri, a nine-day festival, is also celebrated in early fall (this year it was the second week of October), when we eat very simple foods to keep our minds clean of toxic thoughts. The festival is dedicated to Durga Puja, the goddess of feminine power.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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