Sukkot is one of those holidays that at first might seem daunting. You need to build and decorate a temporary building. You need to order a lulav and etrog. You need food. But you shouldn’t allow all that to get in the way of enjoying one of our most joyous holidays with all of its rich traditions. Here are some simple guidelines for your family’s enjoyment.
Get a sukkah onto your deck, porch or patio
If your family includes a creative buildertype, he or she can build one out of plywood and two-by-fours. Only three walls are required – and the side of your house can count as one – but four walls will be cozier, especially in less than ideal weather. And you’ll need an open roof with slats or poles to hold up natural materials like pine branches or bamboo sticks. The roof should be somewhat open so you can see the stars.
The easier way to do this is to buy a prefab sukkah, available in many Judaic stores or online at websites such as www.sukkot.com, which advertises The Sukkah Project – Affordable Klutz-Proof Sukkah Kits.
Then put in picnic tables and benches, or folding tables and chairs, and perhaps space-heaters or citronella candles, depending on weather and mosquito conditions.
Get creative and decorate
My kids used to love to string cranberries and hang mini-pumpkins and multi-colored gourds and Indian corn. Then one night the raccoons found our sukkah. So we switched to stringing colorful beads and hanging plastic fruit and metallic Thanksgiving decorations that work beautifully, depending on your locale and local critters. Also hang Rosh Hashanah cards and your kids’ or grandkids’ or neighbor’s kids’ artwork.
Invite lots of guests
This is what makes this holiday so much fun – good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction, talking and eating, with young and old and in-between, for seven nights. Invite your family. Invite the neighbors. Invite friends and invite people who would be grateful for a change of pace and a night out.
Also invite some invisible, imaginary guests. It’s a kabbalistic tradition dating from the Middle Ages to invite ushpizin (Aramaic for guests). The souls of these seven exalted guests are invited to descend from the heavenly Garden of Eden to join the sukkah meal. Invite our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses and his brother, Aaron, and Joseph (of many-colored-coat fame), and King David. You can buy a poster of the ushpizin to hang on a sukkah wall, which will include the traditional formula for inviting them in:
I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, (whichever guest’s turn it is), my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you.
If you’d like to be innovative and egalitarian, invite the seven prophetesses of Israel as suggested by medieval Italian kabbalist Menachem Azariah of Fano (so it’s really not that new). Call them ushpizot. You can find a poster, designed by Suri Edell Greenberg at www.ushpizot.org. They are our foremother Sarah, wife of Abraham; Miriam, sister of Moses; Deborah, one of the judges of ancient Israel; Hannah, mother of Samuel, whose story we read every Yom Kippur; the shrewd and courageous Abigail, a wife of King David; Hulda, a prophetess respected for her wisdom; and Queen Esther of the Purim story. Do some research and teach your daughters and granddaughters about these biblical role models. Women’s League for Conservative Judaism has more information on its website at www.wlcj.org.
In kabbalistic thought, each of the ushpizin or ushpizot embodies a particular character trait that represents a spiritual aspect of God. Each night, one is singled out and honored as representing the spiritual aspect of that night. Abraham and Sarah represent chesed (lovingkindness). Isaac/Miriam represent gevurah (inner strength). Jacob/Deborah are tiferet (splendor), Moses/Hannah netzach (eternity), Aaron/Abigail, hod (glory), Joseph/Hulda, yesod (foundation), and King David/Queen Esther are malchut (kingship).
Have lots of food
It’s usually pretty cold in our sukkah at night, so we start with hot soup and end with hot tea; what comes in between varies. You can cook every day, cook and freeze ahead of time, do pot-luck with your guests, take-out, or just order some pizza for Pizza in the Hut.
Shave – I mean sit – in the sukkah
The biblical commandment is to sit (shev in Hebrew, but my kids liked the joke of saying “shave”) in the sukkah, and the special Sukkot blessing is “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has commanded us to sit in the sukkah.” So sit, and look up at the stars peeking through the branches of the roof. Enjoy the opportunity to put aside the digital world and spend an evening outdoors, with good food, good conversation and good company.