shall live in booths seven days; all citizens of Israel shall
live in booths, in order that future generations may know
that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought
them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.
up in a Reform synagogue in the 50s and 60s, the only sukkah
I ever knew was the one in the courtyard of the synagogue
that we visited with our Hebrew school class. I didn't know
anyone who had a sukkah at home. I built my first sukkah at
Hillel, in college, panels of masonite nailed to pine frames,
and refined the technique once I had my own back yard. Sukkot
became my family's favorite holiday, despite (or perhaps due
to) watching our sukkah collapse in a hurricane, carrying
the whole set table into the house to avoid an aggressive
delegation of bees, sleeping through a dust storm in our little
balcony-sukkah in Beersheba, and other adventures.
as I was to my pine-and-masonite method, I had to leave it
behind when I made aliyah: apartments with sufficient
storage space to keep the panels dry for 51 weeks are pretty
rare here, and we reluctantly settled for what the local hardware
store was selling: a snap-together frame of steel tubes, and
grommeted fabric panels to tie on as walls. It doesn't feel
very organic, but it takes up no space.
"permanent s'chach" - rolls of loosely
woven reed mats imported from the far east, have become increasingly
popular as roofing. But the municipalities still prune the
public trees the week before Sukkot and leave piles of branches
around the neighborhoods, as a public service and to discourage
wildcat pruning by the residents. Perhaps most striking to
immigrants from the west are the displays of decorations for
sale in the markets - bright mylar tinsel cutouts that, had
they gotten on a different boat from China, would have ended
up on a Christmas tree.
know the statistics on family sukkot here; clearly, all families
who define themselves as "religious" erect a sukkah;
but also, many families who do not observe other commandments
observe this one. One sees the booths in every neighborhood,
on balconies, rooftops, parking lots, and lawns - mostly fabric-on-steel,
but here and there more creative solutions stand out. In non-religious
neighborhoods, the kids collect boards, blankets, and miscellaneous
junk, and build communal sukkot themselves - more as a temporary
clubhouse than as a historical symbol. More than any other
holiday, Sukkot in Israel is like Christmas in America - its
physical presence is inescapable; its symbols are everywhere
in the public sphere. The holiday defines the season.
But wait - Israeli reality is more complex than this idyll.
The school year opens September 1. Sukkot is a week-long school
vacation, at a time when the weather is good for travel -
especially in Europe and around the Mediterranean. Istanbul,
Rhodes, Prague, Budapest - cheap packages abound. Anyone experiencing
Ben Gurion airport around the high holidays can easily form
the impression that the country is emptying out. Until the
government issued a stern terror warning this year, 15,000
Israelis were expected to cross the border into Egypt, to
camp along the beaches of Sinai (probably not in conscious
reenactment of the above biblical text).
in making the obvious and welcome decision to make Sukkot
a secular school vacation, the Jewish state creates a conflict
for the middle class - between commemorating the wandering
by building a sukkah in the back yard, and living the good
life by wandering the Jewish wilderness of Europe and Egypt.
Learning: ARZA Web site
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