I have to admit, that I have always had a certain ambivalence toward the holiday of Sukkot. It is called the season of our Joy, and I’ve watched people over the years build their sukkahs, shake their Lulavs, and do all the things we do on Sukkot, but it has been a difficult thing for me to enter into.
There are several reason this has been a difficult holiday for me. First, I come from a family that didn’t build a sukkah. My grandparents came from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where they lived in tenements, and only the very religious built sukkahs on their fire escapes. Most people there went to the local synagogue and used the congregational Sukkah. My parents came from the Bronx, where people lived in apartment buildings and instead of building sukkahs, they also went to the local synagogue. When my family moved to Long Island, we had the room to build a sukkah, but we went to the local synagogue and used theirs. Later, when I raised my family, I built sukkahs when my kids were young, but to be honest, construction was not my thing, and it got cold by then, so sitting in a poorly constructed (sometimes they fell apart, and sometimes they blew down) sukkah in the cold and sometimes rain, did not give me the feeling of Joy. I did not experience warmth or Joy on this holiday.
Secondly, Sukkot comes on the heels of Yom Kippur, which immediately follows Rosh HaShana, not to mention Slichas (repentance). By the time Sukkot comes around, I’m holiday’d out. I’m tired. Then to have to build a sukkah in a few days, just seems like too much.
I spent several years attending Hasidic Sukkot celebrations, and they were fun, and I enjoyed it very much. I was glad they did it, and was glad to be a part of it, but if I built my own collapsing sukkah, it would not be the same. I was following the same pattern as my parents and grandparents. I was just going to someone else’s sukkah.
Another aspect was the “season of Joy” aspect of the holiday. I always felt it was a bit contrived. I always felt Joy was an emotion you felt spontaneously. It was not supposed to be planned. It always gave me the feeling of it being forced. I’m not one to “fake it till you make it.”
This year, with only a few days until Sukkot, once again, I found myself without the physical and emotional strength to build a sukkah. Some good friends from our congregation were building one, so I figured I’d just go to their house and use theirs. I got my lulav and esrog, and we gathered with other people from the congregation. We were not a large group, but we had a great pot luck meal, we went into the sukkah, lit holiday candles, made kiddush, and shook our lulavs and esrogs. We sat around for 5 hours, enjoying our time together. Everyone got along with one another, and there was a fellowship that I could only describe as “sweet.” It was at that moment that I embraced Sukkot. Not just the rituals, but in the midst of the rituals as our setting, after all the stress of the preceding holidays, there was Joy. It was not contrived. It was not forced. It happened, and it was beautiful. Next year, I build a sukkah!