For the first 27 years of my life, I lived in Johannesburg, South Africa and I firmly believed that the concept of making Aliyah was something exceptionally admirable and brave. I also firmly believed it was something which OTHER people did, and which I would never do. That being said, I always yearned to spend the festival of Sukkot in the Holy Land. Not only because it is an exquisite time of year, with the beating heat receding, but also because, to me, there is something magical about it.
Through a strange turn of fate (for which I will forever remain grateful), for the past eleven years (and counting), I have had the privilege of living in Israel year round. All of the chagim are joyous but Sukkot remains my favorite. After the build up of the month of Elul followed by ten intense days of introspection and repentance, I feel the seriousness of the previous month easing somewhat as I busy myself with menu planning, shopping and never ending cooking.
The stores hum with excitement and frenetic energy as throngs of shoppers select their lulavim, etrogim, aravot and hadasim. The cars make their way cautiously, carrying a precious cargo of wooden poles and schach. Parking within walking distance of any grocery store is an actual nightmare. Hardware stores become incredibly popular with shoppers forming long queues as they wait to pay for plastic chairs and cable ties. Sidewalks are filled with pop up shops manned by youngsters selling a range of shiny foil decorations.
With the shopping completed, the sukkah building (traditionally begun on motzei Yom Kippur) begins. There is fierce concentration accompanied by banging and hammering and last minute trips to the hardware store (yet again). When the frame has been erected and the walls complete, when the schach has been put on (without causing grievous bodily harm to any of the builders) the decorating process begins in earnest with everything from kids’ amateur and adorable school drawings to multicolored chains and even tinsel. Soon we are surrounded by a veritable neighborhood of DIY huts, which may not look like much, but which are soon going to house festive meals filled with food, friends and family.
For me, the joy starts from the minute I sit down in my sukkah on the first night. I can’t begin to explain the feeling that washes over me, the peace and the joy after all that work. I watch the glow of the blinking fairy lights and the adorable, very homemade decorations made by my four year old (and his teachers) surrounding my family. And I realize that my dream of visiting Israel during Sukkot came true in the end and I would not have it any other way.