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The Good Enough Sukkah

08/23/2019 01:17:03 PM


Hannah Orden

When we lived in Boston, I dreamed of building a sukkah, but we had no yard, no space big enough to make our own temporary booth.  Instead, we celebrated with friends who built a sukkah on the deck overlooking their back yard. Then in May 1995 we bought our first home, a house with a wraparound porch and a backyard with plenty of room to build a sukkah.  

By late September, the only evidence of my intention to create a sukkah was that I had bought some gourds at the farmer’s market.  On the eve of Sukkot, I hung the gourds on the porch and passed our dinner through the kitchen window to my young daughter. We ate outside with gourds over our heads, and we were happy.   

At the time I knew nothing about the intricate Jewish laws that specify the parameters of what can legally be considered a sukkah.  I had some notion that a sukkah could not be under a solid roof; I remembered something about being able to see the stars.  Our sukkah was under our tenant’s apartment, but it was a step, and I began to refer to it as ‘the good enough sukkah.’

The following summer we had a small deck built by a handyman who lived across the street and knew how to fix or build just about anything.  As the end of summer drew near, I asked Mike if he could also build the frame for a sukkah.  Mike was Irish Catholic, so I was surprised to discover that he had already learned how to build a sukkah when he worked for another Jewish family.  He took the task seriously, making sure he finished in time for the holiday.  Our sukkah had no walls of any kind, not even lattice, or canvas or burlap.  I liked it that way, because we could see our yard, more like a meadow at the time, surrounded by trees.

I laid branches over the roof, and friends came to help decorate with construction paper chains, apples and oranges nestled in colored pipe cleaners, and strings of popcorn and cranberries.  I thought it was the most beautiful sukkah I had ever seen. 

At the end of the following summer, I again asked Mike to put up the sukkah, but he was busy with another job and was not available.  My husband and I pulled out what was left of the old one from under the deck, but could not figure out how to turn the 2x4s into a hut.  Sadly, I let go of the idea that we would have a sukkah that year. 

The following year Mike and his family moved out of state, and I realized we were going to have to go it alone.  I went online to look for a prefab sukkah and discovered “The Sukkah Project,” the brainchild of a kind soul who has taken pity on all of us un-handy Jews who long to build a sukkah and don’t have the skills.  The Sukkah Project provides a kit which is an economical collection of metal fasteners and screws that can be shipped easily in a cardboard box.  All we had to do was go to Home Depot, buy more 2x4s, and assemble the whole thing using the enclosed klutz-proof instructions.

  Enjoying one of our early "Good Enough Sukkahs"

Sitting in our sukkah that year, I had become a walking advertisement for the wonders of the Sukkah Project and its klutz-proof instructions.  We would now be able to reassemble our sukkah by ourselves each year. The wooded area behind our house would always provide plenty of branches for the roof, and the local farmers market would offer a fine selection of gourds, apples, and flowers.  We were all set.

When we moved to New Jersey, we once again did not have a yard, so reluctantly, I threw away the 2x4s from the Sukkah Project. For a couple of years, we brought dinner to the sukkah at Congregation Beth Hatikvah, which is always an option for those who can’t build their own sukkah. Eventually, I realized that if we moved one of our cars, there was just enough space in our parking space to build a small sukkah. That year, congregants who had gotten married during the summer, offered us the plastic tent they used for the wedding. It fit nicely into our parking space, and we thought it was a lovely “good-enough” sukkah until it blew over during a rainstorm one night.  


                                                               Our New Jersey sukkah--before it blew over.

There is a famous Reform response to the question of whether one can use a tent as a sukkah.  The answer is that a tent cannot be a sukkah because, although it is temporary, it is not open to the sky.  The irony is that the huts we build are supposed to represent the structures the Israelites lived in when they wandered in the wilderness, and those were surely tents, not huts.  But the Reform movement, despite breaking with many long-standing Jewish laws and traditions, comes down on the side of thousands of years of huts, strong enough to withstand an ordinary wind.

I disagree.  If a family wants to leave the warmth and comfort of their home, with its solid walls and illusion of permanence, and pitch a tent in their yard; if they want to hang a few gourds and paper chains inside the tent and eat a meal or even sleep a night or two, I call that a “good enough” sukkah.

Wed, July 15 2020 23 Tammuz 5780