I remember Succot

Memories of Melbourne come flooding back as the holiday approaches.

Succa building 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Succa building 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
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.”
Many funny 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 forays.
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.”
“You 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 psalms.
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!”