Ellis Shuman

The Upside Down Sukkah

When you purchase a sukkah in Israel it’s supposed to be a lifetime investment. The so-called sukkah l’netzach is easily constructed and then stored away after the holiday for future use. How is it, then, that I’ve gone through four or five of the contraptions over the years?

The first “ever-lasting” sukkah I bought was nothing more than a set of irrigation pipes. The end of each pipe had to be screwed onto the next pipe’s connecting threads with the help of a monkey wrench. This sukkah swayed dangerously in the slightest breeze. After one or two holidays, the end of the pipes broke off, effectively shortening its shelf life.

The second sukkah I purchased, also designed for eternal use, was a marketer’s mad concept of an Erector Set. It constituted two golf bags filled with a multitude of bars, angles, connecting joints and support pieces. There were diagrams included but construction was worse than finishing a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. The sukkah stood in place at last, and then it collapsed.

Of course, sukkot are more than just the corner poles and support beams. If you do manage to get the skeleton structure upright and standing, there is also the matter of the walls. Tradition calls for the use of shipment container wood, the real reason anyone makes aliyah or sends a lift of goods to Israel. This usage traces back to the containers carried on the backs of the Israelites’ camels during their exodus from Egypt. Lacking this wood, sheets can be tied to the poles and then reused as bedding covers after the holiday.

It is important to remember that a sukkah is a temporary hut or booth only for use during the holiday itself. Therefore, pouring a concrete roof is unsuitable. Instead, software developers invented schach l’netzach, the beach thatch that is imported specially from the bungalows of Sinai. Over the years, the schach tears in enough places to allow for ample starlight to filter through to the guests inside the sukkah as they merrily shake palm fronds left and right.

With the sukkah fully assembled and the schach amply sheltering everyone from the seasonal rains that fall every year during the holiday, it’s time to decorate. In the United States this is a simple task. There you just stock up on Christmas decorations in December and use them in your sukkah the following autumn. Luckily in Israel there is no shortage of frilly, metallic-colored streamers and crepe paper pomegranates available and people flock to the Sukkot fairs to purchase them along with the funny-shaped etrog that also plays a part in holiday traditions.

Back to me. This year’s construction of our latest sukkah l’netzach took the usual amount of blood, sweat and frustration. Soon our sukkah was standing proudly on our back patio, covered with a new carpet of bamboo schach. It’s time to decorate. But wait! Going into the house I feel that something is inherently wrong with my booth.

The sukkah is upside down! No, I don’t mean that the schach is actually at my feet with the sky totally exposed. I have mistakenly placed our sukkah poles upside down. As a result, there is a ledge of two inches that one must step over to come inside. How could this have happened? Admittedly, there was no diagram or construction manual for this most recently acquired sukkah model but I assumed it could be assembled by instinct alone.

Okay, we’ll watch where we walk when we enter our sukkah for tonight’s festive meal. Upside down or not, we’re ready to celebrate.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.