Why This Secular-Raised Jew Loves Sukkot – Kveller
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Why This Secular-Raised Jew Loves Sukkot

Our sukkah is up, and I am thrilled.

This is our first sukkah as a family, and my first sukkah ever.

I love pretty much all of the Jewish holidays, except maybe Tisha B’av, which has been known to fall on my birthday. (I don’t think you’re supposed to love that one anyway.) But Sukkot might be my favorite, for so many reasons.

Sukkot happens in the fall, and autumn in New England is nothing short of spectacular. The air is fresh and cool, a welcome change from the oppressive heat of summer. Our local farm stand has dozens of varieties of crisp, delicious apples, and the leaves in our neighborhood are varying shades of green, yellow, and red. It’s the perfect time to be outside.

We’re Jews, so obviously food is always important, but the focus of meals during Sukkot is not a fancy menu, but something that can be taken outside and eaten in the sukkah. It’s probably not surprising that simple, portable meals make this culinarily-challenged Mama very happy.

My kids, like so many others, are happier and less fussy when they’re outside. That right there is enough to make me wonder if I can get my hands on a giant menorah like the one in the yard of the local Chabad house. Hanukkah outside, anyone?

Sukkot is a harvest festival, and a time of gratitude. Although I’m no farmer, I appreciate any opportunity to be grateful for an abundance of food and a roof over our heads. It’s hard not to slow down and be appreciative when you’re sitting outside under the sunset, enjoying a meal with family and friends while the kids run around the yard.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Sukkot is the one Jewish holiday that I can truly relate to. I was raised in a secular family, so all of my Jewish education has taken place since I graduated from college. I enjoy Rosh Hashanah services and lighting the menorah as much as the next Jew, but I always feel like an outsider, an imposter, even at home around the Passover seder table. (I’ve never been the youngest, so I don’t actually know the Four Questions.) I love the music, the food, the ritual, and I’m learning as much as I can, but it’s not embedded in my soul the way I hope it will be for my daughters. When I need comfort food, I’d prefer my Italian mother’s pasta to matzah ball soup, and if I need music to cheer me up, I’ll reach for Willie Nelson over Debbie Friedman any day.

But a temporary dwelling? That I can relate to. As the child of divorce, I grew up in California and New Mexico, and I spent significant periods of time in Mexico and New York. I lived in approximately seven different homes before I went to college and five different apartments after I graduated. My husband and I have lived in our current home for almost eight years, the longest period of time I’ve lived in any one place. I’m starting to get itchy, and a sukkah is just what I need.

To be honest, I’d prefer to spend Sukkot at the base of the Rocky Mountains, under the New Mexico sky that is so big and open I often feel like I’m living in a snow globe here in Massachusetts. But we can see the stars from our yard, and I’m looking forward to sitting in the sukkah, taking a few deep breaths of the fall air, and appreciating the life that my husband and I have created for our family. It’s so different from what I grew up with, and more than I had ever hoped for. That’s a bounty I can truly appreciate.

For some sukkah inspiration, check out our list of favorite designs, and then prepare to get eating with these recipes for chewy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and stuffed pumpkin.

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