I love Sukkot, but I don't think I fully realized until this year why I do.
(For those of you who don't know what Sukkot is, it's an eight-day festival that commemorates the temporary dwellings that the Israelites lived in during their 40 years in the desert.) (I digress: One of my favorite related memories is from 1997, when I was teaching 10th grade in Conyers, Ga. A student of mine, who is now a great friend - holla to Rebekah - was looking through her daily planner and asked, "Miss Edelman, what's Suckoth?" It took me a minute to realize she was reading the word "Succoth" in her calendar, not making a funny Shakespeare joke.)
So, this year, I realized that I love Sukkot. Because this year, for the first time really ever, we built, decorated, and legitimately dwelled in our sukkah.
Those of you who have known us since our brief stint in Cincinnati may recall our first sukkah, built in 2002 - the first Sukkot after Morrie's ordination. We had a big flat backyard and not so much money, so we decided to plan out designs to build a huge sukkah out of PVC pipe and tarps and love, and took said plans to Home Depot, and returned home and built the thing. It was huge and pretty cool. Morrie reminded me the other night that we also cut down branches from our trees to go on top (a detail that I for some reason have erased from my memory, but I believe it.) And then, just as we were finishing, it began to rain, but Biblically. And we ran inside and looked at our sukkah with great admiration, and I don't think it took more than a day of rain before it folded in on itself. We never decorated it, we certainly never dwelled in it, and we just sort-of packed it up and stuck it in the garage.
We tried to assemble it again when we moved to Montebello. This time we had a team helping us. No luck. We have since realized that we needed a brace at the center of each side. No matter, we ended up just using the synagogue's sukkah anyway.
But last October, shortly after Sukkot, we moved into our new house. So this year, I was determined to have a sukkah. I researched costs and yearned for the prices that the Israelites paid. We decided on a lovely 8x10 foot sukkah from Sukkah Depot - a temporary set-up of its own, at Judaica House in Teaneck. Our sukkah has a 10-year warranty, which is a good thing given the final price!
One Sunday afternoon, Zachary and I pillaged Michael's and spent way too much on fake gourds, fake fruit, fake veggies, hay, and other sukkah-decoration fixin's. (We decided that every year, Zac will decorate a new fake pumpkin to add to the old ones - an ongoing reflection of his growth in paint pen and gourd - excellent! I of course had to paint one too, because let's face it, who doesn't need a fake white pumpkin with "Chag Sameach" in Hebrew on it?) Zac also insisted on buying a pumpkin basket and two little metal birds and collected twigs to make a little nest for them.
Morrie picked up the sukkah in Teaneck the next Tuesday - a little daunting, in three long boxes and two duffle bags - and we waited for a day that Zac would be in school and the weather would be nice to put up a hut.
Morrie suggested that we have Juan, the shul's maintenance man, help us put it together. But I was inspired to assemble it just us, the original Team Zimbalist. When the big day arrived, I told Morrie that we could stop at any point that we felt we no longer loved each other. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and in about an hour and a half, we had our sukkah!
Zac's eyes popped out of his head when he saw it on the deck, and he and I worked hard to tie-dye old pillow cases to make into wall hangings (a process that ultimately turned my hands blue for two days, but the results were worth it). Morrie surprised us with huge bales of hay, gourds, Indian corn, and mums. Zac and I hung the decorations. This was a sukkah that Martha Stewart would approve. It was really perfect.
We totally dwelled in that sukkah. We ate every day in there as a family, and we had lots of guests. There was not enough room, and it was great. We admired our handiwork. We loved that every bit of it was a creation of our hands, our hearts, our family. We said the blessings. We counted our blessings.
This year, I finally "got" Sukkot. It's a combination of the crazy shopping and pre-planning, the building and decorating, the gathering together with family and friends. This week, we'll take it down and put the pieces and the decorations in the garage. The symbol itself is temporary - but I hope that everything else the holiday gave us will sustain us to next Sukkot.