I grew up in New York City. My family used to do it up on Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, Passover, and even for Shabbat, but Sukkot was often an afterthought. We didn’t have a backyard or even a concrete area in our building where we could put up a sukkah, so while we went to services and sat in the synagogue sukkah, I didn’t really appreciate how awesome Sukkot really is until I moved to Los Angeles and we were able to have a sukkah of our own.
OK, it was on a concrete slab behind our apartment building, but at least it was ours. We hosted meals in our sukkah, and even thought about sleeping there, but we never got that brave. In addition, we got to visit all our friends’ sukkahs, to celebrate together and generally experience the awesomeness of being outside under the sun and stars.
When we moved back to New York, I was determined to show my kids that Sukkot is one of the greatest holidays in the Jewish calendar. Here are some of the things that we did, that I hope will help you make the most of your Sukkot, no matter where you live.
1. Find a place that is selling lulavs and etrogs and go with your kids to pick them out and put them together. If you are in New York City, they often set up a market on the Lower East Side where you can pick out all the different parts, or Judaica stores often carry them. If you can’t go pick them out, at least order one to have at home. Nothing beats the smell!
2. Shake the lulav every day. This is a ritual that takes less than five minutes and can be easy to learn with a video or online instructions. It is not often we let our kids bring leaves and branches into the house and it is something they ask for long after Sukkot is over.
3. Learn the rules of how to build a sukkah and then build one inside. While it may not meet the legal requirements of a sukkah, it can be a fun way for families to learn what makes a sukkah. You can do a pillow and blanket sukkah fort or build it out of clay, Legos, or blocks. One year, we took a large cardboard box and cut it into a sukkah that my kids could fit inside. Then we decorated it with paper chains and pictures of fruit. My kids and their toys loved living in their cardboard sukkah.
4. Make an edible sukkah. Get some graham crackers, frosting or marshmallow fluff, and some Twizzlers for the roof and build away. You can get other candy for the decorations and then have a great time eating it together.
5. Do some community service together. On Sukkot, we choose sit in the sukkah and experience what it is like to be eating and sleeping outside, vulnerable to the elements. We also recognize that so many in our community do not have the choice not to sleep outside night after night. Depending on where you live, your children may regularly experience homelessness around them. Cook for a shelter, buy food and donate it, and, if you have older kids, sleep over in a shelter. Talk to your kids about people who don’t have food or shelter and how they can help them. These are lessons that will last long after Sukkot concludes.
6. Go to a synagogue. Most synagogues have a sukkah and often will have a sukkah decorating party or other Sukkot events that are open to the community. Even if it is only for one meal, there is something enticing for city kids about eating outside, even if a few pine needles fall in your food.
One of the commandments of Sukkot is to be joyful. I hope that some of these ideas can help you bring joy to your Sukkot, even without a backyard sukkah.