“I could write a book about how not to build a sukkah”


Photo by Suzanne Epstein-Lang


On the way to Yom Kippur services, I began the following sentence, “Girls, Sukkot starts on Sunday….” I would have completed this sentence by saying, “We’re really not going to be at home much next week,” ” It always blows over,” or, “The weather never cooperates.”  Before I could utter the second half, each of my daughters chimed in with a definitive, “I want a sukkah!” My high school senior really drove the point home by saying, “It’s my last one.” Obviously, I was going to begin building a sukkah that very evening.

You may wonder how our family, members of a congregation with the word “reform” literally in the name, ended up with such a strong tradition for building a sukkah.   My personal first sukkah came when I lived in a small, but mighty Jewish Student Center.  My roommates and I had inexpensive rent in exchange for a promise to host holidays and keep the door open for Jewish Tennessee Vols.  I learned to love shach delivery day, stringing Jewish Christmas lights and tweaking our natural decor a little each year. More importantly, I loved the week of celebration, the warmth of friendship on a crisp night in the little hut that must have confounded those around us.

Even though sukkahs were usually found in the yards of more observant households, I decided it is a part of my tradition too and one that I always wanted to observe. When I came for graduate school at Wash U, I scouted an apartment with a balcony just for a makeshift quasi-sukkah. Later as newlyweds David and I learned sukkah kits are kind of pricey. The one I wanted the most from Sukkah Soul was far out of my financial reach.

This was before the days of Pinterest and I was left to my own devices to come up with DIY solutions, each seemingly shakier and tippy-er than the last. I could write a book about how not to build a sukkah. By the time we had the finances to buy the kit that I really most desired, I found out that it was no longer made. Ironically, I learned it had been created by an architect who was not only local but went to my own synagogue.

Twenty years later, I still don’t own a proper kit, just a PVC cube with walls we change each year because I can never get it right. We have a standing joke about which child will go outside to save the sukkah and where it will blow away this year.   One of the great philosophical and spiritual lessons of Sukkot is that our dwellings and lives are fragile and impermanent. Our family tradition is to have the most impermanent sukkah of all.

Knowing that all of this resonates with our children means the world to me. So I begrudgingly set up the sukkah. Rather than putting up the real walls this year I quickly covered the whole thing in tulle. It’s ethereal (probably not kosher) and as tippy as ever. Probably more the suggestion of a sukkah than an actual one? That’s fine with me.

Somehow, I have built a solid foundation with shaky structures. It’s a solid rock on which my children know that I will climb a ladder for them each fall. A foundation on which they have learned the magic of sitting on a bale of hay and laughing with friends. A foundation on which they know that we can celebrate all Jewish traditions even if we don’t do it just like our more observant friends.

If you see this sukkah in your yard, kindly return it to us: will be needing it a few years more!