Sukkah squad helps build memories


In commemoration of our ancestors’ 40-year journey in the wilderness, Jews are supposed to leave their homes and live in temporary shelters. If I didn’t know better, the commandment (Leviticus) that tells us to “dwell in booths for seven days” sounds like a Salvation Army homeless shelter. Of course, I’m talking about a sukkah, a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts” and is the symbol of our thanks for the plentiful fall harvest. These temporary outdoor structures have three walls usually constructed of two-by-fours and an open roof made of tree branches that gives us a little shade and a dreamy view of the stars at night.

Even if you’re all thumbs, anyone can build a sukkah. All it takes is a little help from the “sukkah squad,” or a group of tireless volunteers from Congregation Shaare Emeth who show up at your house with their power screwdrivers, hammers, and handfuls of galvanized nails.

At Congregation Shaare Emeth, members who host a “Sukkot in the Neighborhood” party and invite other temple members are given a do-it-yourself kit, which contains metal braces and screws, plus a detailed assembly guide that reads like a Building a Sukkah for Dummies. Talk about dummies — at first I assume the small cardboard box contains everything I need to build an 8 x 8 sukkah. Then I realize that I have to buy the lumber — duh.

In addition to providing a sukkah kit and a crew who works for peanuts, literally, (I always feed my workers), the temple generously offers a lulav and sweet-smelling etrog to be used during the waving of the four species ceremony. Not to worry — a goody bag filled with crafts, candy, and a bottle of grape juice also contains instructions and the blessings to be recited when shaking the lemony etrog and the palm branch combined with myrtle, willow and braided palm leaves.

The “Sukkot in the Neighborhood” program encourages members to live Jewishly outside the temple as well, and this weeklong celebration is the perfect opportunity to start the New Year and learn hands-on about our history.

Over the years and depending on your imagination, sukkahs have gotten fancy and are now decorated with everything from vinyl lattice siding, bamboo roller shades, and wiring for a ceiling fan practically. But the idea is to keep a sukkah simple and all-natural. A sukkah is a temporary structure, not a storm shelter, and is meant to get wet in the rain and sway in the wind and be vulnerable to the elements just as the Israelites felt when they wandered the Sinai Desert after their Exodus from Egypt.

The best part about Sukkot is that young and old alike can join the fun and help make the sukkah feel cozy and beautiful. While preschoolers link together colorful paper chains, older kids and adults hang Indian corn, gourds, and fruits with twine to welcome the fall season. I like to add plenty of pumpkins, corn stalks, haystacks, leafy vines, and garlands made of pinecones, acorns, and whatever else I can find on the ground.

Whether the focus of Sukkot is agricultural, historical, environmental, or social action, this pilgrimage holiday is one of my favorite ways to bring family and friends together.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is obsessing over the menu at her son’s bar mitzvah luncheon, so please feel free to send any advice to: [email protected] or visit her website at