The Sukkah of Memory

I’m lucky to have a sukkah here at the temple. I like to walk into it and sit, have a nosh, shake my lulav and then go back into my office. It’s not that I’m such a stickler for performing mitzvoth; it’s just that Sukkot and some of its traditions are so evocative.

On the simplest level, Sukkot is a nostalgic holiday. It reminds me of the old days. Every year Liza and I would build a sukkah in our backyard and then encourage our kids and their friends to do Sukkot stuff. They’d decorate the sukkah with fruit and construction paper chains and pictures they’d draw with crayons and markers.

Every year we’d have a neighborhood party in the sukkah, asking folks to come over and enjoy the Fall colors and to have the fun of hanging out with a purpose. I’d make stews and chili and soups, gladly feeding anyone who came by. It was always so much fun and so fulfilling.

But when my nest emptied out, I stopped building a sukkah. It just didn’t feel right to have a lonely sukkah sit empty except for an occasional visit from me. That’s why I’m so happy to have a temple sukkah that’s filled with kids and grown-ups.

I rarely see the neighbors who used to come over for the Sukkot celebration at our place. It’s sad. I only have myself to blame for not keeping up the connections. This gradual self-isolation as one ages is pernicious. I didn’t realize that this is how it happens. As life circumstances change, where one intersects with others changes too. I like my neighbors a lot. Without the added effort, relationships fade away – not in anger or malice, but rather due to benign neglect. Things happen over time.

The sukkah reminds us that our ancestors wandered in the wilderness, dwelling in temporary shelters. The roof is purposely open to the heavens. In fact, if the stuff used for covering the sukkah roof is so thick that it protects sukkah dwellers from rain, then it is not kosher. In other words, we’re supposed to feel vulnerable.

We are not invincible. We’re not immortal. So every day that we have is a gift. As long as we can keep breathing, we can keep celebrating, thanking God for the frankly miraculous truth of being alive. Of course, we don’t need a sukkah for that… but it helps.




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