In The Sukkah:
October 2, 2020
Dear Holy Friends,
I hope this correspondence finds you in good health and cheer as we celebrate the remaining days of the Sukkoth festival.
In the Torah, the holiday of Sukkoth is called Z’man Simchateinu (the time of OUR joy). During biblical times, this time of year was additionally referred to as the time of the harvest gathering, which incidentally, is why our agrarian ancestors were, understandably, incredibly joyous!
Even though I am not a farmer (although my sister is one in Western Canada, but we will save that story for another time), I have many beautiful memories of this specific holiday, which I would love to share with you.
Growing up in Toronto, it was common to dress in winter coats and count snowflakes in the Sukkah. Even though the weather was less than hospitable, the Mitzvah of dwelling in this temporary booth was so important that my ninety-year-old Great Uncle Mordecai (in Yiddish we called him Feta Mordecai) would build his Sukkah each fall and literally schlepp a tiny mattress into his temporary booth, which was barely large enough for a small bridge table. Each year, we would go visit him for a modest kiddush, shake the lulav and marvel at his desire to spend the entire night in the Sukkah. Years later, when we were raising our three daughters in Chicago (by the way, also not a climatologically ideal environment for outside celebrations in the fall), the kids insisted that the five of us sleep all night in the Sukkah.
After a festive meal, we would do almost like Feta Mordecai. It would take about twenty minutes to bring out blankets, sleeping bags, pillows and, of course, extra snacks. I will share with you that those occasions did not offer the most memorable of a night’s sleep, but the recollections of kibitzing in our packed Sukkah and accidentally rolling on top of each other, while laughing and enjoying, brought us all great joy. One year, the sprinkler system went off and soaked both us and the Sukkah (whoops, forgot to turn off the timer!).
Here, locally in Fair Lawn, each year, we would invite over for lunch (on the second day of the holiday) members of the shul, who were Holocaust survivors. They were, of course elderly, but it was amazing to see how they perceived this simple Yuntif booth as a proclamation of the continuation of Jewish life. They would share with us that it brought them incredible joy to see both the vibrancy of Judaism and that future generations would come together to celebrate publicly, sing, and continue our Jewish heritage.
Friends, while I have my memories of Sukkoth, I would be thrilled to hear yours! Where was the strangest place that you ever sat in a Sukkah? What was the largest gathering you ever experienced in a Sukkah? And, what was the finest meal you ever ate in the Sukkah? Please e-mail me to share your memories with me.
While this year is certainly different, I pray that whether through direct experience or impactful memories, the holiday and Jewish life continues to bring you untold blessings and Naches.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD