Friday, October 06, 2006

The Sukkah Project

After the harvest from your threshing floor and your vineyards, you shall celebrate the Feast of Booths for seven days. (Deuteronomy 16:13)

You shall live in booths seven days in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:42-43)

The sukkah itself symbolises the frailty and transience of life. It also reminds its dwellers that true security comes from faith in God, rather than from money or possessions. Wikipedia

It's raining, hard, which means that the Festival of Booths (Sukkot) has arrived. In our part of the country, the weather is always gorgeous right up until this holiday begins. Then it gets cold and begins to rain.

Nevertheless, this is one of my very favorite holidays. It's a harvest festival - many people think Thanksgiving was inspired by Sukkot.

Right after the gloom of Yom Kippur, you're supposed to start building your sukkah. It has to have at least two and a half walls, and the roof has to be made of dead wood and plant stuff, enough of it so there is shade during the day but sparse enough to see the stars at night. You put a table and chairs in there, maybe a cot, and then for a week the mitzvah is merely to "hang out" in your succah - eat, play with your friends, sleep in it if you can.

Back in the old days people set up their booths in the fields. In eastern Europe, as you can see in the movie "Mamele," and today in Israel, people cram lots of sukkahs into the back alleys, all right next to each other.

When my ex-s grandfather came to visit our house for the very first time, and we took him out back where our porch terminated in an area with a wooden grid on top (maybe intended for grapevines), he marvelled, "Your house comes pre-prepared with a sukkah?"

We used to throw a lot of bamboo up there, hang sheets for walls, drag our mattresses outside, we decorated it with paper chains and fruit hanging from strings, put pictures on the walls, and ate in it with the kids sitting crosslegged on a pile of cushions and sleeping bags. It was so much fun. Even though it was often cold. And occasionally raining.

When my ex- and I split up, I went out and bought each of us a sukkah kit from the Sukkah Project people, who happen to live in our area.

Their kit makes things pretty easy, especially after the first year. First time you make the kit up, you cut the wood and attach the hardware. Also, LABEL THE PIECES so when you take it down and stow it, you don't forget how to put it back together next time.

Yesterday a friend and I hauled all the pieces out from my crawlspace and put it up. It took longer than I'd expected because my labeling system suddenly seemed quite cryptic. No matter, by dinner time it was fully erected. It had a bunch of branches on top - I had cleverly done a lot of pruning recently and left the pruning remains where they fell, so there was plenty of material - and tarps strapped to 2-1/2 sides. There was a table, and chairs, and a lamp. Vos mer darf a yid?

My crafty plan: yesterday was actually the day BEFORE the holiday begins, so the weather was still gorgeous! I outsmarted the heavens!

We ate dinner in the sukkah and listened as the sounds of the evening birds gradually melted into the chirping of crickets and frogs. The moon came up and we saw the stars. The lamp threw a beautiful shadow on the walls.

Now it's pouring rain. Isn't that the way. If it stops raining later I'll take a picture.

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At 8:17 AM, Blogger melina said...

At our High Holiday services this year in NY, the rabbi ended the Yom Kippur service, after Havdalah, by taking a small block of wood and hammering a nail into it. This was to symbolize the continuity of the year - that one holiday leads into the next - i.e., as soon as Yom Kippur ends, you're already supposed to start thinking about the next holiday, Sukkot.

So our service ended with those three incredibly primitive sounds - the blowing of the shofar, the hiss of the Havdalah candle being extinguished in the wine, and the nail being driven into the wood.I thought it was beautiful.

Also, anything involving New Yorkers trying to use a hammer and nail is always entertaining.

At 1:30 PM, Anonymous alma said...

Thank you for sharing this. In my corner of the world, we have a large Jewish population, and they build a Sukkah in the plaza each year.

Last year, our neighbor's temple sponsored a Sukkah-mobile. They rented a U-Haul truck and decked it out with branches, hay, autumn veggies and paper chains. Then the truck, followed by a convoy of families, was driven to various homes. At each home, the convoy stopped, they opened up the back of the truck, and everyone enjoyed the party.

When the convoy stopped at my neighbor's house, they invited us to join in. They had a brief ceremony in the back yard, where my neighbors had built another Sukkah, then a short party before the Sukkah-mobile and convoy went on their way again. It was very festive and I felt so lucky that my kids and I were be able to share in the fun.

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow nice to hear you had a good day. . . Just thinking about being out in that clearing at night makes me kind of miss it

Last night we (10 people from the house) went to a state park and made a sukkah in the campground (walls: tent flies tied to trees on three sides, roof: several of those really long tent poles with boughs resting on top of the poles). It was cold. Especially without a sleeping bag.



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