I love Sukkot. More than any other Jewish holiday, this one is hands down my favorite.
But I didn’t always love it.
When I reminisce about Sukkot in Toronto, where I grew up, I remember that my love for Sukkot was not unconditional. It was completely dependent on the weather forecast. Some years I loved it, some years I hated it. And I have such strong memories of watching rain drops plop into my chicken soup, while waiting for my parents to deem it bad enough weather to move the meal indoors. And I would actually pray for more rain, harder rain, colder rain just so we could finally move into the dry warm house. Now as an adult, I’m able to look back and see that we must have looked absolutely crazy. Imagining myself as Maria, our Italian neighbour who had a virtual Tuscan farm flourishing in her small backyard, I could just see the conversation going as follows:
“Dio Mio, Mario! They’re at it again….those crazy Jews! Building that rickety wooden shack in the backyard. You know, they could be growing tomatoes and zucchini like us, but no, they have to build a wooden hut. With leaves on top. Seriously, like that’s going to keep the rain out? Did you see the forecast, Mario? Rain all week. Do you remember last year? Singing all night? And it was freezing! Sitting there with their coats and gloves on when they have a perfectly nice warm house….. And then tomorrow they’re going to go to synagogue with their lemon and the stalk of palm. And that lemon? Don’t they know I have a mini orchard in the backyard? My lemons won the prize at the annual Italian Growers festival! I would have given them a much nicer one, Mario…”
I remember that moment when something shifted and I became aware of how odd we looked. It was a sort of coming of age. Somehow, walking to shul with the men holding tall palms and boxes with etrogim in them was suddenly downright bizarre. And all the excitement I had about the decorating projects I’d worked so hard on was quickly dashed by the heavy rainstorm that rendered all my beautiful artwork into a soppy wet crinkled mess on the floor of the Sukkah. And don’t even get me started on how difficult it was to explain to my college professors why I was missing classes for something called The Feast of the Tabernacles…
But now? I love it.
And it’s not just the holiday itself, but this week and a half time period between Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and the night we begin Sukkot. I love the noises that go along with this holiday, the early morning sounds of sawing, hammering and the chattering of little kids helping to build and decorate the Sukkah. “Higher…yes, yes, now a little to the right!” And then more banging.
And the best part? No one thinks we’re weird…
But there are plenty more reasons why I personally love Sukkot. Those of us who are just a tiny bit anal retentive about keeping our dining room floors clean during the holiday are super excited to have all those challah crumbs on the floor outside and it’s a relief not to have to think about washing dishes, since most of us use paper goods for this holiday. And it’s nice to hear everyone on your street eating, laughing, singing and rejoicing in the holiday without the neighbours thinking you’re having an illegal backyard rave. Crembos show up on the shelves of every supermarket and moms everywhere buy boxes of them for the annual “Sukkah-hopping” event.
Our house, for a while, gained a bit of notoriety since my husband liked to shake things up a bit and instead of handing out crembos or candy, he handed out odd miscellaneous items like cotton balls, straws or toothpicks to any kid who came Sukkah-hopping. Kids came especially to see what cockamamie item he’d find to give out that year. Probably the best part, for me, is the fact that I don’t have to clean my house from top to bottom like I do for Pesach. Most of the important prep for this holiday — besides the cooking — falls into the hands of the big strong alpha men of the family who are looking for that opportunity to flex those muscles and show how capable and manly they can be.
They love getting up on that ladder and figuring out how to wire electricity so there’s light in the Sukkah. And those men who are looking to really show off put up not just lighting but a fan as well. (Never mind that you’re still waiting for them to put up that shelf you bought at IKEA three years ago…) I like to compare Sukkot to a family BBQ. The women make the salads and put out the paper goods and then sit back and relax with a glass of wine or bottle of beer while the men are in charge of the heavy lifting and grilling….
In my own house, one of my kids appoints herself every year as chairwoman, president and CEO of the official Sukkah Decorating Committee. She searches Pinterest endlessly, opened a new decorating board and is jotting down ideas left and right. Right now I’ve got at least a dozen empty beer bottles on the table, washed and cleaned, ready to be turned into hanging art for our Sukkah. Last year’s project was turning old whisky bottles into real light fixtures. There are art supplies in every corner of the kitchen, and a hot glue gun waiting to be plugged in. No paper chain links for our Sukkah…but if we had them, they’d last from year to year, dry and just as beautiful as they were last year and the year before.
For us, living in Israel, Sukkot makes sense. Weather is gorgeous, our season of autumn — which usually lasts all of two minutes — lines up perfectly with this holiday and why not spend it outdoors? This year especially, Sukkot falls out quite late in the year. For us on this side of the world, the late holiday only means that eating outdoors, even during the heat of the day, will most likely be pleasant and enjoyable. For my friends and family still in Toronto, it could actually mean snow in the Sukkah — it’s happened before, and it will probably happen again….
And if you, on the other side of the world, aren’t a huge fan of Sukkot, maybe consider coming here…that might change….