Sally Abrams
Here's How I See It

This year, our sukkah can travel but we can’t

Our traveling sukkah. Photo: Sally Abrams

Two years ago, I decided it was time for a new sukkah. The sukkah we enjoyed when our kids were young was long gone. With a growing batch of grandchildren, a new sukkah was not only a want. It felt like a need.

I searched online and found a sukkah kit whose assembly seemed within our very limited mechanical abilities. And then I had an idea.

What if we made this sukkah a traveling sukkah? What if my husband and I bought the sukkah, set it up the first year, and then for the next two years each of our two local children and their families would host the sukkah? Then the sukkah would return to us, and the round robin would begin again. One sukkah shared by three households. An incremental approach to growing in Jewish practice.

My husband reacted with skepticism. He doubted the sukkah would be as easy to assemble as was claimed, and he was near certain it would never go into rotation. “I’ll be putting it up every year,” he grumbled. But he was smiling.

The sukkah kit arrived and went up easily. Our grandkids had a fabulous time decorating it. They were already anticipating when it would be their turn to host the sukkah. The fall weather was mild (never a sure thing here), and we ate in the sukkah every day with family and friends. It was the best Sukkot in years.

When the holiday was over the sukkah was easily disassembled and stored away. And, sure enough, last fall one of our kids came to pick up the sukkah, and it moved to house #2 in the rotation.

A few months after the traveling sukkah joined our family, one of our non-local daughters-in-law came to me with an idea of her own. It had been ten years since she and our son visited Israel, ten years in which they married and built a family. They were longing to return, just waiting for the kids to be old enough to withstand the long plane ride. “I think that by Sukkot 2020 the kids will be big enough to travel to Israel. We want them to see Israel for the first time with both sets of their grandparents alongside them on the trip. What do you think?” She smiled. She waited.

What did I think??  “Where do I sign?!” was my immediate reply.

From that day forward, the hashtag #Sukkot2020 became a thing for our family. The trip was still a year-and-a-half away, but we began dreaming and planning for what it would be.  Sukkot last fall was a joyous celebration and the start of the one-year countdown to #Sukkot2020.

Then the pandemic hit.

At first, we were hopeful the trip could still happen. It was six months away! The pandemic would be over by then, right? Wrong. By mid-summer, with the pandemic still raging, we knew there was no way we’d be able to travel to Israel in September.

Today is the day we should have been boarding the plane. Yes, we are disappointed. But a trip can be rescheduled. This trip will be rescheduled.

Meanwhile, the staggering physical, emotional, and financial suffering due to the pandemic continues. The worldwide death toll has now surpassed one million, climbing toward an unknowable number.

Coronavirus cases in Israel are surging. A record high of over 200 patients are on ventilators; 33 Covid deaths occurred during Yom Kippur. Israelis are in a lockdown that will continue through Sukkot, possibly longer.

This year, our traveling sukkah can journey to its destination, but we cannot. That is, unless we change the destination to what is possible right now, find the faith needed to live with uncertainty, and choose to embrace Sukkot as zeman simchatenu, “our time of joy.”

In 2013, seven years before the pandemic, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks described Sukkot as ‘the festival of insecurity’.

He wrote: “I have often argued that faith is not certainty: faith is the courage to live with uncertainty. That is what Sukkot represents….the vulnerability of actual huts, open to the wind, the rain and the cold….To be able to do so and still say, this is zeman simchatenu, our festival of joy, is the supreme achievement of faith, the ultimate antidote to fear…Faith is the ability to rejoice in the midst of instability and change, travelling through the wilderness of time toward an unknown destination.”

That’s how we will travel this year. That’s how we should travel every year, no matter what other kinds of journeys are possible.

We will sit in the sukkah and feel autumn’s chilly air, brush off the rain, place our backs against the wind. We will turn our faces toward the heavens, toward God, smile, and say shehechianu.

We are here. It’s more than enough. It’s everything.

About the Author
Sally Abrams co-directs the Speakers Bureau of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She has presented the program “Israel and the Middle East: the Challenge of Peace” at hundreds of churches, schools and civic groups throughout the Twin Cities and beyond. Sally speaks fluent Hebrew, is wild about the recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi, the music of Idan Raichel, and is always planning her next trip to Israel. Visit: sallygabrams.com
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