Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Sukkot past, present and future

Photo of the four minim courtesy of Israel's Government Press Office
Photo of the four minim courtesy of Israel's Government Press Office

This year, like almost every other, I did not build a sukkah. I’ve long wanted to, but it just never happened. Now that I am in a new home, perhaps next year we could build one.

But that’s not to say I don’t have memories of them. When I was a child, the sukkah was something that belonged to the shul and during Hebrew school, we’d trudge inside to recite the blessing over the lulav and etrog. I didn’t feel all that connected, I admit.

When my Israeli ex-husband built one at my parents’ house on Long Island, though, he creatively used two-by-fours for the frame and old bedsheets for the siding (I bet ours was the only one in existence with Huckleberry Hound on the walls!). Our neighbor Sam, two doors down, came by once he saw it up, and told us how he had grown up with his family building one, and this brought back memories. He was thrilled and ran home to get wine for a kiddush. His wife was a little less thrilled at him taking the Waterford crystal decanter, I recall. But boy, was he smiling.

When I lived in Jerusalem, it was far from a rarity. I just loved how neighborhoods were filled with sukkot everywhere, beneath buildings, on balconies, in the yards in front and back. And how some children would sleep out in them with their fathers. It was an adventure! I also remember eating holiday dinner in my former in-laws’ sukkah in Katamon Tet and then in my neighbors’ in Givat Mordechai, and hearing everyone else around them enjoy their dinner too. One of a former sister-in-law’s neighbors had rigged a pulley and a pail from his third floor apartment to a tree below to make it easier to bring the food down and the empty dishes back up. Sheer brilliance! While that was uniquely urban, hearing the clinks and clatter of silverware touching plates and conversations and singing at other families’ tables near us felt absolutely communal. In a way, this is what it must have been like for Am Yisrael as they traveled through the desert for 40 years.

Then again, I also remember going to visit a former sister-in-law in Ma’ale Livonah and seeing how her then husband had moved the couch and television into their sukkah. If the commandment is to live in it for seven days, then by gum, that’s what he was going to do!

Decorating the sukkot was always fun too. Once time, my sons and I were invited to my boss’s sukkah for holiday dinner and we decided to make a decoration as a present. We took a big piece of newsprint and painted it yellow, folding it into a paper balloon (one of the more useful things I had learned in fourth grade!) and attaching it to a branch. The etrog was big and beautiful, I thought. So did the boys. I also have kept all the decorations my older two sons “made” in Gan Itri in Talpiyyot, the religious nursery school they went to. I’d always hoped I would build a sukkah and hang these on the walls.

After I moved back to the states, while I was thrilled to know families in metro Atlanta were building their own sukkot, I never built my own. (and not all had kits – one family used PVC one year, and I even downloaded blueprints and filed them away for someday…) Sadly, it was always “next year” that I would build.

This year is no different. This week, I moved into my fiancé’s house and between work, school, homework, unpacking and each of our separate work-related travel plans, it just isn’t going to be. But as I look around and see a house empty of kids, with each of our youngest now off to college, I wonder how I let the years go by without creating those memories for my own kids that I saw neighbors and friends give theirs.

We all have regrets in life and this is actually one of mine. I have to admit, though, that I am grateful that I do not have bigger regrets weighing me down. And next year – please hold me to it – we will build a sukkah!

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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