I know, I know. I KNOW. The shofar has finally stopped ringing in your ears, you’ve managed to get the honey out of the couch cushions, and you are fully rehydrated after Yom Kippur’s fast.
You want to rest. I get it; I do, too. But hear me out! You may have thought we all peaked at some point during the third minute of tekiyah gadolaaaaaaah, but we most certainly have not. Welcome to my absolute favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot!
If you haven’t marked the holiday before, allow me to share some background. Sukkot is a glorious outdoor holiday, tucked in between Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah. It’s a week-long festival in which Jews honor the 40-year journey of the Israelites through the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt. The Israelites stayed in temporary structures during that journey, and so we mark the holiday by building temporary structures — individually, a sukkah, or collectively, sukkot — and by eating, drinking and even sleeping in the sukkah.
Why is Sukkot the best of all the Jewish holidays? I’ll try to limit the endless list:
First, Sukkot happens in the fall. Statistically speaking, every person in the world loves fall the most. It’s crisp, if not downright chilly! The leaves are on fire! We’ve collectively survived the utter chaos of back-to-school! Sukkot forces us to get outside — the entirety of the holiday is outside — and absorb this splendid season. If you have made the unfortunate decision to live in a part of the world that is not currently experiencing fall, then honestly that’s on you. It may be too late to uproot your life and move for this year’s Sukkot, but you can start planning for next year.
Second, on Sukkot, we get to build things! There are so many ways to go about building a sukkah. Prefabricated kits, sukkot passed down through generations, PVC pipe creations, repurposed pergolas, the sky is the limit (as long as a bit of sky is showing!). My family bought a set of blueprints years ago. That first year of building was a challenge. We tried to fit eight foot planks in our two door hatchback, and cracked the windshield in the process. Then we learned that no member of our nuclear family knew how to operate a drill. But, by the time we finished, we’d enlisted the help of neighbors we hadn’t caught up with in ages, allowed our kids to paint with abandon, and thoroughly exhausted our inexhaustible toddler. These days, reassembly of our sukkah is a straightforward process, but we cherish the path that got us here.
Third, a sukkah can help you find your fellow Jews! I had no idea how many Jews were in my neighborhood until we built a sukkah. It seemed that every time we were in the yard, a neighbor stopped by to admire our sukkah, ask how we built it, and chat about their Jewish practice. One family even dropped off homemade challah and treats. A sukkah in the yard is a wonderful conversation starter.
Fourth, Sukkot provides an opportunity to let the kids “go camping” without going camping. Surely I’m not alone in my fundamental aversion to camping. If I’m going away for a weekend, I want showers and air conditioning and sheets and amenities and no bears for goodness’ sake. And yet, my kids inevitably and relentlessly ask, throughout the year, to lug heavy things around in the woods, all in service of a terrible night of sleep. Gross. But lo and behold! I become mom of the year during Sukkot, when I let them sleep in the sukkah as much as they want, so long as they don’t disturb my civilized indoor slumber.
Finally, and best of all, Sukkot provides a beautiful opportunity to welcome your friends and neighbors — Jewish or not — into your customs. Every year, my family invites the whole neighborhood into our tiny yard for an overflowing Sukkot brunch. We make way too much food, invite everyone to bring a dish to share nonetheless, and cede the yard to the kids. One year we hung blank poster paper from our fence and left out a ton of washable paints and brushes — kids and adults alike made gorgeous decorations that still hang in the sukkah. Another year it rained relentlessly and we moved the party mostly indoors. We are still cleaning bagel crumbs out from our carpet, but it was completely worth it. This year we are hoping to return to our pre-COVID practice of inviting way more people than could possibly fit in our space, and enjoying the relationships that grow. The sukkah brunch is now an institution in our neighborhood, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I hope you will consider celebrating Sukkot this year. And if building your own sukkah is just too much, you are always welcome in mine. Chag sameach!