ראוש השנה, ימים נוראים, יום כיפור, סוכות, שמיני עצרת, שמחת תורה
(Rosh Hashanah, Yamin Norim, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, Shemini
Atzeret and Simchat Torah) - the month of holidays is over. Last night in Jerusalem 15 minutes after the sun set, the sukkahs began to be dismantled.
The commandment to live these days to their fullest - even so far as to build a temporary shelter with a roof exposed to the stars; and live in it for a week - reaches every corner of the Jewish world. When I was a child we had a community Sukkah built outside the synagogue walls. The children were invited to decorate it and share at least one meal inside. This was very exotic and exciting and totally out of synch with everyday life in Saskatchewan despite the fact that we were surrounded by the autumn harvest and the natural end of the summer season. We constructed the shelter as a reminder that all things are temporary, that we too have been homeless and that we are commanded to share our home with visitors - any and all visitors.
Years went by and we celebrated the holidays but we never built a Sukkah. When we lived in New York I was fascinated by the hundreds, if not thousands of Sukkahs built on balconies in Williamsburg. I would walk by the apartment buildings and feel tremendous envy. I never imagined we might build a Sukkah of our own.
Then, when Isaac's was about to become a Bar Mitzvah we found ourselves in a particularly Jewish situation - we wanted to celebrate the מצוות (commandments) but we could not find a community we felt comfortable with. So we improvised. Isaac learned his פרשה (Torah Portion) from a tape that Eve recorded for him. We rented a ספר תורה (Torah Scroll) from the lower east side and we built a giant Sukkah in the backyard to hold the ceremony. We found a wonderful Rabbi online who met with Isaac and actually spent some time with him discussing what all this meant to him. It was a truly amazing experience for all of us and extremely satisfying to house our guests and share our joy under our temporary shelter.
We have a beautiful Sukkah - if not a kosher one (the proportions are off). We have enjoyed meals under its roof and we have shared it with our friends. We built in on the balcony just like the folks in Williamsburg.
Next year I want to build a Sukkah in the street because Sukkahs are erected wherever someone needs one: in the yard, beside the house, in the parking lot, on the sidewalk, in a field, behind a restaurant, in a hospital and even on a raised platform outside a playground. It is a glorious a reassuring sight to see so many of them.
But I have to say the most impressive and touching structure I saw yesterday in נחלאות (Nachlaot - mixed secular and religious neighborhood across from the shuk) was the Sukkah built by the homeless man in Isaac's neighborhood. He constructed for himself a shelter built of discarded fruit boxes. It had the right roof with סכח (palm fronds) it looked to be the right proportions. I wanted to go in, but it was already getting dark and the day was ending.
On the last day of Sukkoth we celebrate the end of the season and the last פרשה (Torah Portion). We have come to the end our story. We dance with the ספרי תורה (Torah Scrolls). שמחת תורהWe rejoice. We read the last portion and then we start all over again with ברשית (Genesis).
we were lucky enough this year to attend a beautiful service where the entire scroll was open and the whole community held it (with a cloth). Both Isaac and I had Aliyahs (called to read the Torah blessing) and we received a blessing from the community.
For me, a secular woman, this was important. My tie to this land by the sea is very strong and very real. I am glad we return to the beginning. We have another chance to make something new and make the world better.