Temporary Structure, Perpetual Joy

October 4, 2021Cantor Lauren Phillips Fogelman

Sukkot is known in Hebrew as Z’man Simchateinu – the time of our joy. It’s the happiest festival on the Jewish calendar, labeled as such because it represents a time for coming together to enjoy family, nature, and a bountiful harvest. 

My family erected a sukkah for the first time this year, which gave us numerous excuses for experiencing the joys of Sukkot in new and exciting ways. My kids enjoyed helping to decorate the sukkah with twinkle lights and handmade artwork, dancing with the lulavlulavלוּלָבA date palm frond with myrtle and willow sprigs attached; used in Sukkot rituals. and etrogetrogאֶתְרוֹג"Citron." Lemon-like fruit used in Sukkot rituals. , and eating all of our meals outside. Like many young families in the age of COVID-19, we have been pretty isolated over the course of the past 18 months. Having a sukkah gave us a reason to invite friends and family we had not seen for a very long time for outdoor COVID-safe dining.

But what happens when it’s time to take the sukkah down? Since Sukkot is such a celebratory occasion, the act of deconstructing the sukkah can be quite depressing. The sukkah is built in somewhat of a rush in the four short days between the end of Yom Kippur and the beginning of Sukkot. Yet there’s no real deadline for taking it down. Since we had so much fun in our sukkah, we procrastinated and kept ours up for a few extra days. We had my brother and his family over for Shabbat dinner and ate outside in the Sukkah even though the holiday was technically over. It warmed my heart when my almost 4 year-old, Alex, asked if we could keep the Sukkah up forever.

As tempting as it was to say yes, I knew in my heart that the sukkah wouldn’t survive a northeastern winter. As it was, the wood frame was already starting to buckle under the weight of the schach (roof). Even the tiniest snowfall would surely collapse it. Besides, the whole point of a sukkah is to be a temporary structure. It reminds us of our historical vulnerability as wandering Jews. Also, if we kept the sukkah up permanently, it would simply become an ordinary part of our porch décor.

When the time came to take down the sukkah, Alex said sadly, .“I’m going to miss the sukkah,”

I gave him a consoling hug, reassured him that we would build a new sukkah next year, and said, “Now we have something to look forward to.”

And with that, Alex started scheming ideas for next year’s sukkah decorations. On tap? A Frozen theme, complete with dangling snowflakes. 

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