By Rachel Gross
Each year, Jews around the world build a sukkah of their own to celebrate the joyous holiday of Sukkot. Traditionally, all sukkahs are the same, but people add their own decorations to make each one specifically unique.
In Israel, Sukkot is one of the most widely enjoyed holidays, a time of fun and excitement that is shared with friends and family inside the walls of the sukkah. The same is true in America, with many families enjoying meals, listening to music and sleeping under the stars.
In the Dallas area, it is traditional for many families to build their own sukkahs and make it a fun activity for children. Oftentimes, people have fond memories of the sukkah from their childhood.
Gary Weinstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, said his family has a sukkah each year. He has had the same one for about 16 years and it is big enough to fit 30 people comfortably, so it is easy to entertain friends and family.
What is unique about his is the fact that it is always geared toward Israel. He puts up various posters all along the walls and attaches quotes from the Bible.
“My sukkah has become a travel poster for the state of Israel,” he said. “I like it to look and feel like I’m living in Israel.”
Weinstein said one of the things he especially enjoys is hosting some of his non-Jewish friends.
“It’s a great icebreaker for my Christian friends … I show them Israel,” he said. “We always have a great discussion. They have a good deal of knowledge and respect for Jewish customs.”
Plano resident Shani Romick and her family also have a sukkah every year. They build the sukkah and make it a family event. Her children enjoy using a hammer and nails to construct it.
The Romicks have been putting up their sukkah for about eight years. They decided to start building one as the kids learned about it in school at Levine Academy.
“They started learning about it and we were learning with them,” she said. “I have great memories of being in a sukkah when I was growing up. It’s a nice memory and a way to enrich our Jewish life now.”
The Romicks also have some unique traditions they take part in every year.
Right before Rosh Hashanah, they build part of it, usually just the top and the frame. They do this so they can host about 60 people for lunch both days. Then, after Yom Kippur, they put up the sides and the decorations.
“I wanted them to have it done for Rosh Hashanah and then my eighth-grade daughter taught me that it is not kosher to finish it until after Yom Kippur,” she said, laughing.
The decorations are also special. They put up holiday cards they receive from friends and family. Also, the kids always make posters with the names of the patriarchs and matriarchs from the Bible. For the roof, they use branches from their own pine trees.
Romick said they usually have a Shabbat dinner and a Sunday brunch in their sukkah.
The most meaningful part to them is the fact that they can observe the holiday of Sukkot; Romick likes that this brings the whole family together.
“This is significant to us because this is what Jews actually had to do,” she said. “It’s bringing back the things that actually happened in the past and bringing them to the lives of our children.”
Materials you need to build a sukkah
By Rachel Gross
People usually complete their sukkah the day after Yom Kippur. Every sukkah is unique in its own way, but there are certain things each one must have. One main rule is that the sukkah must be built under the sky, with nothing intervening between the roof and the sky. Here are some of the materials you need to create your own.
The walls: The sukkah must have at least 2-1/2 walls covered with material that will not blow away in the wind. You can use wood, plywood or fiberglass panels, waterproof fabric or a metal frame — almost anything you want. Also, you can use pre-existing walls, like the walls of your home or your garage, as the walls of your sukkah. It can be any size you wish, as long as you can accommodate everyone.
The roof: The roof is the most important part of the sukkah. It must be made of material referred to as s’chach, which literally means covering. Common roof coverings are bamboo, palm branches, discarded tree branches, thin wooden slits and cornstalks. One key part concerning the roof is to have enough s’chach so there is more shade than sun seen on the floor of the sukkah.
The decorations: Many people choose to decorate the sukkah with posters depicting holiday themes or by hanging fresh fruits from the s’chach beams. The Chabad custom is not to decorate the sukkah so as not to take away from its inner beauty.
The table and chairs: It is customary to host people in the sukkah, so make sure there is ample room for all of your guests.
You can find most sukkah building materials at Lowe’s. For an alternative, check out Lone Star Judaica, 6911 Frankford Road. Here you can find sukkahs which are all made of vinyl and have windows and steel bases. They come in various sizes, with the smallest being 4-by-6 feet and gradually going up in size to about 12-by-24 feet. You can also buy decorations like a plush lulav and etrog, laminated posters, canvas posters, plastic fruits and grape lights.
What the rabbis say
We talked to a few rabbis from different congregations in Dallas to get an insider’s view on their own personal sukkahs, what they do to make their sukkah one-of-a-kind and their words on the meaning of the holiday of Sukkot.
Rabbi Shawn Zell,
Tiferet Israel Congregation
Rabbi Zell said he always puts the roof up himself and his wife is the “interior decorator.” He likes to invite friends and congregants and tell stories.
“The message of the sukkah is to make sure that people aren’t left empty, whether they are Jewish or not. We have to realize that when you look up at the ceiling, people really live with holes in their ceilings. If Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tell us to get our act together spiritually, Sukkot tells us that it’s important to be together no matter what the circumstances are.”
Rabbi Menachem Block, Chabad of Plano
Rabbi Block said he does not put up any decorations in his sukkah because they would take away from the inner beauty it already has.
“The inner beauty of the sukkah represents God’s embrace. The mitzvah of walking inside encompasses you. After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when you work hard on the days of awe, the sukkah brings us the blessing of joy for the year. Energy of joy comes from the holiday of Sukkot. Many, many Jews can be in one sukkah at the same time and that represents unity.”
Rabbi Oren Hayon, Temple Emanu-El
Rabbi Hayon builds a sukkah in his backyard each year and he and his wife enjoy being there with their dog and baby. They put up decorations, and enjoy a meal and listen to music.
“It really is a sweet, precious part of the year for us. The sukkah is a nice, multi-layered symbol. In biblical times, it was a small shelter during a time of homelessness. Today, we as a Jewish community are more rooted. This is a good reminder not to take for granted our stability, comfort and rootedness and remember the things that are temporary. I think Sukkot is a terrific holiday, especially after the stress of the High Holy Days. It’s a great way to reconnect with the natural world and the things that are most basic, like family, having shelter over our heads and G-d.”
Sukkot brings variety of Metroplex-wide celebrations
By Deb Silverthorn
Lulavs will be shaking, and the scent of the etrog should reach far and wide if the variety of Sukkot celebrations in North Texas is any guide. As the “feast of tabernacles” begins on Monday, Oct. 13, hammers are hammering, and palm fronds are finding their way to the rooftops of the temporary dwellings which remind us of the housing in which the children of Israel lived as they wandered through the desert.
“Sukkot is one of the few holidays where we can perform a mitzvah in unity and that is to be in the sukkah itself,” said Rabbi Menachem Block of Chabad of Plano (972-596-8270), which will host a Sukkot Variety Show, Sunday, Oct. 19, from 4 to 6 p.m., featuring clowns Tiffany Riley and Dick Monday. “As we come together we can feel the embrace of HaShem, a bear hug for the New Year almost, and our love for HaShem can only be brightened by more people coming together.”
Other North Texas Chabad centers will too be waving the lulav and sharing the scent of the etrog throughout the holiday. On Sunday, Oct. 12, beginning at noon, Chabad of Dallas (972-818-0770) invites the community to help build their sweet and bubbly sukkah out of 1,700 two-liter cases of Coca-Cola. “I’ve had this, what seemed like a crazy idea for many years, and it’s a fantasy for me,” Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky said. “I’m like a kid in a toy store with a new box of Legos. While the cover of a sukkah must be made of a natural substance, the walls are kosher as long as they ‘spell’ out the letters of the word ‘sukkah’ with either four walls, as there are four sides in the letter samech; three walls, as there are three sides in the letter chaf; or 2-1/2 sides, as there are in the letter hey.”
Rabbi Dubrawsky says that “where there’s love, no room is too small, and where there isn’t, no room is large enough. We’ll all fit and I’m sure it will be beautiful.”
Chabad of Arlington (817-451-1171) will, on Sunday, Oct. 19, beginning at noon, host Pizza in the Hut while later that day, from 4 to 6 p.m., Chabad of Fort Worth (817-263-7701) will host a Sukkot Family Festival featuring “Hobo” the monkey. Also on the 19th, Intown Chabad (214-632-2633) welcomes all to a downtown block party, 4–6 p.m., with live music, food and fun for all.
Monday, Oct. 13, Fort Worth’s Congregation Beth-El (817-332-7141) will host dinner in the “haunted sukkah” and a scavenger hunt at 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 15, Rabbi Stefan Weinberg of Anshai Torah (972-473-7718) will lead a service for early-childhood-age children and then share in a pancake breakfast in the sukkah, beginning at 9:15 a.m.
On Thursday, Oct. 16, during the fourth- and fifth-period lunch schedule for Plano ISD senior high schools, Congregation Anshai Torah’s “Wolfstein’s Deli” will host lunchtime in the sukkah. At 7 p.m., Anshai Torah’s Hazak group will host dessert and guests Rosalie and William Schiff, Holocaust survivors, to discuss their experiences. At 7:30 p.m., the Brotherhood of Temple Shalom (972-661-1810) invites men to join in a Cigars & Scotch program in the rabbi’s sukkah.
Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday, Oct. 17, brings congregational services and dinners throughout the community and Temple Shalom (972-661-1810) gives a magical twist to the night with a magician on hand. Temple Emanu-El (214-706-0000) will feature “Sukkot Across Emanu-El” with programming for the entire family: Following services and dinner, author Hollace Weiner will speak about her new book, “Journey of Jewish Organizations”; the Young Adults community will host Linz Coffeehouse; for kids, there’ll be music, munchies, arts and crafts, GaGa (Israeli dodgeball), a scavenger hunt, storytelling, puppets and songs.
Saturday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m., families are invited to Arlington’s Beth Shalom (817-860-5448) Gumbo & Jambalaya night. At 7:30 p.m., Temple Shalom’s Young Adults group “Shalom Y.A.L.L.” hosts ages 21 to 39 for Salsa in the Sukkah.
Flower Mound’s Kol Ami (972-539-1938) celebrates nature and the outdoors with a Sukkot Retreat at Lake Murray, Friday–Sunday, Oct. 17–19. “There’s nothing like shaking the lulav and etrog in a sukkah that is lakeside,” said Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis, who looks forward to building the sukkah together, fishing, baseball and more. “This is our fifth year. This holiday lends itself to sharing as a community in the outdoors.”
Sunday, Oct. 19, is the sixth annual Community Sukkot Carnival, with rides, food and music, at Torah Day School of Dallas, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Teens are invited to Sushi in the Sukkah, hosted by Shearith Israel’s USY chapter, from 5 to 7 p.m. (call 214-361-6606 for location). Steak & Poker Night at Congregation Tiferet Israel (214-691-3611), hosted by the Brotherhood, begins 6:30 p.m.; Anshai Torah’s Men’s Club welcomes men 13+ to enjoy Sunday night football, card games and snacks at 7 p.m.
Please call for pricing and reservations for each event.
By Rachel Gross