Many people know the old joke about the gentile who objected to his neighbor’s
erecting a succa in his front garden and reported him to the authorities for
building without a permit. A sympathetic judge heard all the evidence, and his
final verdict was “I give you seven days to take it down.”
things happened during Succot in Melbourne, Australia, where I was born and
married. The weather, for one thing. At the time when Israelis and Jews in the
Northern Hemisphere are praying for rain, the seasons are reversed Down Under,
and just as summer is approaching, we were still required to make the petition.
And very often, the heavens obliged with sudden downpours that sent us all
scuttling inside just after we’d set out the food and seated the guests in our
duly decorated succot.
One year we were invited to lunch in a big succa
in my brother- in-law Sam’s backyard. He was a builder, and it was before the
days of perpetual succot where you just bought the whole thing to knock together
in 10 minutes, complete with fabric walls that you rolled up later and continued
to use every year. Back then, you had to construct the succa with real labor,
and there were no shortcuts.
Sam had a collection of doors from all the
building lots where he had worked on demolitions, so he joined them all together
to make the walls of his spacious succa. They were interesting doors with names
on many of them such as “Valerie Smith, Milliner,” “Wayne Brothers’ Electric
Appliances” and two with “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” on them. When we arrived a bit
early for lunch, we went straight to the backyard. There we saw a delivery man
with a large parcel.
Looking as though he had wandered into a lunatic
asylum, he knocked on one door, then the next, waiting for someone to answer. By
this time, we were so doubled over with laughter that we were incapable of
putting the poor man out of his misery.
When we first made aliya, for
many years we rented apartments that had no succa balcony, so our succa was
always erected downstairs in the parking lot.
Instead of being a time of
joy, I remember it as a time of schlepping food up and down flights of stairs,
soup growing cold and spilling over the rim of the pot as we made our perilous
Today, we are truly blessed. We have a succa balcony right next
to our kitchen, which makes the festive meals a breeze.
I love decorating
the succa partially with what my daughters insist are unsuitable Christmas- tree
decorations. But because I never experienced the fun my childhood gentile
friends had of decorating trees in December, I have lots of glitzy, sparkly
ornaments complemented by more sober religious Succot decorations of the Four
Species, posters of solemn- looking rabbis, drawings by younger grandchildren
and a row of Rosh Hashana greeting cards that I still keep from the time when
friends really took the trouble to send them to each other instead of dashing
off a last-minute e-mail.
Succot is a time we are obligated to rejoice.
In fact, this injunction is made three times: “You shall rejoice before the Lord
your God seven days.”
“You shall rejoice in your festival.”
shall have nothing but joy.”
Succot seems to have far more relevance here
in Israel than it did for me in days of yore. Many family members even sleep in
their succot. For seven days, they give up the comfort of their homes “to dwell
in booths,” and we take in our hands the Four Species: the palm branch, the
citron, the myrtle and the willow of the brook. The lulav and etrog were a part
of the Temple service, and we wave them to this day in the succa, as well as
when we recite Hallel in synagogue and during the chanting of certain
Every year, our small succa seems to expand miraculously to hold
all our guests, no matter how many we crowd into it. After so many solemn
festivals like Tisha Be’av, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Succot gives us its
blessing: “May you have nothing but joy!”
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