I really love sitting in my sun-kissed Southern California garden sukkah with its wooden lattice walls and ceiling of palm and bamboo, where I am enveloped by the breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The kaleidoscope of decorations that festoon our home-away-from-home are more than just that; they represent the passing of the years and the growth of our family – from the fading preschool pictures of our kids blowing shofar or shaking lulav, to the hand-colored names of the ushpezin we struggle to remember to invite into our sukkah each night, to the bubble-wrap-and-construction-paper ears of corns and technicolor paper chains the kids excitedly created.
Last Sukkot, I thought that this temporary dwelling would be a permanent one, that each year at this time this same sukkah would be our home for the beautiful harvest holiday. But back in May, while on a family visit to Israel, my husband and I decided that next summer we would realize our long-dormant dream and would make aliyah. Financial opportunity called and excuses and impediments fell away. Our chance had come.
After getting the Nefesh B’Nefesh ball rolling, we quietly began telling some close family and friends over this past summer. Then, on the eve of Rosh Hashana, we announced our plan to our broader circle using the modern-day equivalent of a herald trumpeting the news: We put in on Facebook. It’s been a bittersweet time as we and our local friends know that these holidays are, we hope, our last in North America.
When I sit in our sukkah this year, I can’t help but wonder about what our sukkah (and our more permanent home, for that matter!) will look like next year. I know the ocean air will be replaced with the breezes and perhaps even rain of the Judean Hills. In this year of three-day yomim tovim and all the cooking that has entailed, I can’t wait to embrace the new one-day holidays of our future.
But in the the sukkah, I begin the mental triage that will inevitably take place in our California home in the coming months: Which items get to make aliyah with us and which will be left behind? For now, the handmade decorations, the photographs and posters will make the cut. I imagine our beautiful collection of garden lights will not as they are cursed with being the wrong voltage. We will leave the walls and schach to shelter another local family’s celebrations in the future.
Before Sukkot began, I read former chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s weekly message, where he dubbed Sukkot the “Festival of Insecurity.” It’s a time that Jewish people leave our stable homes for the uncertainty of life in ramshackle structures as a means to say to G-d that we know our safety, livelihood and blessings are in His hands.
I can’t help but be struck at how apt the “Festival of Insecurity” description is for us now. So much promises to be different for us by our next Sukkot. We know we are giving up what is on its surface a more secure life – a great community, my husband’s strong and enjoyable job, a beautiful home – for what would appear to be an admittedly shakier existence. In addition to not knowing what our sukkah or house or schools will look like a year from now, the peace talks currently taking place add an air of unpredictability to what our homeland will be like by the time we get there. I wake up nights worrying about my children, how they will fare in a new culture and with a new language.
So far, all but one of my forty years of Sukkot celebrations have been in Southern California. The only one I spent away was in my husband’s hometown of Montreal, and that was a revelation. Who ever heard of snow in a sukkah, one that was covered with pine needles instead of palm? Not this California girl! And probably not my forbearers who wandered in the desert for forty years. As I bid farewell to my Southern California sukkah days, I feel like my forty years of personal wandering are coming to a close as my family heeds the shofar’s call from the past weeks and prepares to come home.
Like the mitzvah of being in the sukkah, the mitzvah of moving to and living in Israel is one we can do with our whole selves. And while this may be a holiday — indeed, a time — of insecurity, it is also “zman simchateynu,” the time of our joy, and I am overwhelmed with the excitement of a new life that awaits us in the Promised Land. And just like the sukkah must have more shade than sun, I can only hope that our coming aliyah is marked with more blessings than challenges, and that we will focus on the joy of what’s ahead.