DIY sukkah kits bring fun, ritual to first-time builders

5-year-old Isaac climbs a ladder to assist his parents.

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

As a child outside Philadelphia, Dr. Sherri Besmer’s father would build a sukkah from scratch, with supplies from Home Depot. 

“We decorated it and ate in it, and it was a lot of fun,” she said. 

But Sherri, 33, a pediatric pathologist, and her husband, Mike, a lawyer, aren’t builders. So they wouldn’t be making any trips to the hardware store.  

And this year, because of the pandemic, the couple and their two children couldn’t visit their friends’ sukkahs for lunch during the weeklong Jewish harvest festival. 

So the Philadelphia transplants ordered a kit from Sukkot Hadar, an Israeli company, and assembled the hut in their backyard in Brentwood. 

Like the Besmers, many people decided to build sukkahs for the first time this year, according to the manufacturers of such kits.

The Sukkah Project, a company based in Grand Junction, Colo., saw its sales double.

The owner attributes the increase to people not being able to visit friends’ sukkahs or attend large celebrations at their congregations.

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“I think the other factor is that this is a time of a lot of uncertainty financially,” Abram Herman wrote in an email to the Light. “Politically, healthwise, there are a lot of people struggling with some serious issues, and those are always times where people return to religion for comfort. Sukkot is the most joyous festival of the year, and we all need a reason to celebrate right now.”

Sherri and Mike, who grew up in Florida, met in Philadelphia and moved to St. Louis two years ago when Sherri got a job at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. They have since joined the Conservative congregation Kol Rinah and started sending their son, Isaac, who is in kindergarten, to Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. 

“We like it here,” said Mike, 33. “It’s friendly, it’s comfortable,  it’s a great place to raise kids.”

The Besmers unpacked the kit and started to assemble the metal frame Sept. 30 with assistance from Isaac and their daughter,  Maya, 22 months.

Why did they build it? Isaac explained: 

“Because I never built one before, and I was curious about how to build one, and I thought it would be fun building one, and Mommy also had that idea, so she ordered it.” 

Sherri asked Isaac about the purpose of a sukkah. 

“Because when you go inside, you have the lulav (a palm branch) and etrog (a citron) and you get to shake them for dinner,” he said.

And what does it remind us of?

“Ancestors – when they were sleeping in the desert.”

Mike said he saw Sukkot as “an overlooked holiday because it comes right after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but it’s one that offers an opportunity for some fun and outdoor adventure, so we are excited to celebrate it as a family.”