Sunday, September 15, 2013

Israel and My First Sukkah

I'm sitting in my favorite Jerusalem coffee shop because our wifi in the new apartment isn't working and I am a "work from home" desk jockey, and right before my eyes, arising out of nowhere, is a sukkah! (And it's coffee themed, no less.)

Yes, the beautiful thing about living in a Jewish community is that all of your favorite restaurants throw up sukkot -- or booths, huts, shanties -- for the weeklong holiday where we're commanded to eat, drink, and be merry all outside in the sukkah. The great thing about living in Israel is that this is basically happening everywhere. Why? It's a mitzvah to eat in the sukkah! So if you're the kind of establishment that wants Jews of every flavor and religious leaning to show up during the holiday, you put up a sukkah.

Note: The sukkah is meant to be reminiscent of the temporary huts the Israelites were forced to dwell in during their 40 years wandering in the desert. It's also one of the Three Holidays that the Israelites/Jews would pilgrimage into Jerusalem to the Temple. Oddly enough, according to the prophet Zecheriah, in Messianic times, all nations of the world will celebrate Sukkot and pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate. So to my non-Jewish readers: Brush up on your sukkah knowledge now! You never know when Mashiach will show up and you'll have to set up your own sukkah.

It might be hard to believe, but after "doing Jewish" for around 10 years now, I've never had my very own shiny, sparkly, law-abiding Sukkah. Despite a Reform conversion in 2006 and an Orthodox conversion in 2010, my sukkah experience has been relegated largely to community huts and those of close friends -- not to mention Sukkah City 2010, which was quite the experience.

One year my ex-husband attempted to install a sukkah on his deck, but he got flack from the neighborhood association and it fell down before we could even use it. I have experience with one-person pop-up sukkahs, large community sukkahs (including one that fell down around me), and sukkahs built in backyards, front yards, and everywhere in between.

But never have I built or decorated or dwelled for even a moment in my very own Sukkah! So this year, folks, this year is the year! It's the year of My First Sukkah. It's also the first year that I only have to observe one official "holiday" day at the beginning and end of the weeklong holiday. (In Israel, most of the Jewish festivals are only observed for one day, because theoretically we're close enough to Jerusalem know the calendar. Outside of Israel, most holidays are two days, because the idea is that Jews in the Diaspora would have to wait to hear when holidays began/ended. Yes, we have the internet and calendars, but this is just how we roll.)

With the holiday just a few days away, however, I'm left with a bit of panic: Where do I buy decorations? Do I even want to buy decorations? Should I create a theme that will create a tradition in our family? Should I go minimalist? Ahhhh! Plastic fruit: yay or nay? Cheesy posters of the patriarchs (who we invite in like visitors, because it's a huge mitzvah to invite people into your sukkah)?

The benefit of never having a sukkah of my own was that I never had to decorate it. May this be the worst of my problems this year, right?

Luckily, for us, our sukkah in the new apartment is up year round. According to the laws of sukkah, we're covered by the fact that there are two cement walls attached to the apartment where there is a glass sliding door, plus the rails on the fourth side of the balcony (with a beautiful view, I might add). We're borrowing the "roof" (called a skach in Hebrew) from our new landlord, and we recently picked up some plastic chairs that are currently serving as our dining room chairs (we're classy, and not rolling in money). As far as the basics, we're set.

As of now, the only "decoration" I have is a printed out and laminated infographic on Sukkot. I could run with the theme and just go nuts printing out and laminating infographics on the holiday, but that might be a little wonky and once Little Z is less fetus and more small child making cute pictures in school, I don't know how well they'll match. (Here's a thought: Teach Little Z about infographics in-utero!)

Decorations or not, I'm just blessed to live in a country where on every corner, on every balcony, in every little nook and cranny in this country, I'll be privy to sukkot of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Do you have a theme for your sukkah? If you don't have your own sukkah (yet), what would be your theme of choice?