By Nina Badzin for KvellerI have unexpectedly become an evangelist for Sukkot. Though like any born-again-anything, I wasn’t always such a fanatic for this particular holiday.
Once upon a time I saw Sukkot as an event that only took place as part of a religious school’s curriculum. Along with the other students who came to Hebrew school three times a week, I’d help decorate the synagogue’s sukkah, stringing wire through bizarre looking gourds on the temple’s enormous property overlooking Lake Michigan. The next Sunday morning we’d have apple cider and cinnamon-sugar doughnuts in the sukkah instead of the regular slice of challah and grape juice in the classroom. We’d take turns shaking the lulav and smelling the etrog.
It was a holiday we religious school students approached with an anthropological eye. An ancient people used to build these huts, we seemed to understand. They slept there and ate there. The end. And although most of my childhood friends were Jewish, I didn’t know anyone whose family celebrated Sukkot.
When my husband and I bought our first house in Minneapolis, however, I learned that he enjoyed having a sukkah for a year or two when he was a kid. He mentioned the memory to his father, and within weeks we had a Chabad rabbi and a team of helpers in our driveway erecting a wooden sukkah in our front yard. This was even before we had kids. Eating dinner at a table for two in our dark sukkah I thought, “What now?” Then, “This place needs a light.”
In the next few years we made some friends who took the time to put up a sukkah with an eye for warmth, light, and fun decorations. Our kids would come home with projects from their Jewish preschool we were able to use for our sukkah’s bare walls, and the idea of eating all these meals with extra guests for a week grew on me more from year to year. We eventually traded in our small wooden shed-like structure for a canvas sukkah with a bamboo mat roof. Now that we’re a family of six we might even need a bigger one that can accommodate all of us and the people I like to invite.
But why do I love Sukkot so much? Why do I think it is one of the most underrated of all the Jewish holidays? My top four reasons are below: