After two weeks of quarantining inside, my family was excited to fulfill the commandment to leave our house and live outdoors for Sukkot.
My son wholly embraced the sukkah-building experience. As my husband put together the frame and hung the canvas, my son eagerly darted about, admiring the sukkah from all angles. Standing high atop a stepstool, he supervised as each of his carefully-constructed paper chains and decorations were hung. While we with our adult eyes thought we had built a simple sukkah, my son thought the sukkah looked “like a royal dining room.”
Erev chag was chaotic, to say the least. I had barely a moment to think. With the kids off from school (even virtual school), I did my best to keep them occupied while I prepared for the yom tov. While I only had to cook for one day, with our tiny temperamental Israeli oven, I still only managed to pull out the final tray of chicken just minutes before candle lighting.
As we gathered around the table in our sukkah, I couldn’t help but notice how pleasant it was to be outside. The weather was about 23 degrees Celsius (approximately 74 degrees Fahrenheit). What a difference from the wet Sukkot of my childhood, when we would wait around to see whether we would be able to do anything other than make kiddush in the sukkah. And what an even bigger difference from the Sukkot at my in-laws in Toronto where we had to worry about snow!
With Sukkot evenings as delightful as this, I no longer understand the age-old dvar Torah about why Sukkot is celebrated in the autumn instead of the spring.
Our sukkah here in Israel is very spacious (and could have comfortably fit another family or two in addition to our own). How different from my family sukkah back in New York, in which my parents somehow always managed to squeeze in far more guests than it should have possibly held. Or from the apartment building sukkah with picnic table benches in which my husband and I sometimes found ourselves squeezed next to neighbors we may never have met before.
As we prepared to make kiddush, we could hear birds cooing on the palm tree right outside (not above) our sukkah. These birds were much more welcome visitors than the raccoons that sometimes haunted my in-laws’ sukkah or the ever present bees in our New York ones.
What a difference celebrating Sukkot in Israel!
Despite all the wonderful advantages of celebrating the chag here, though, one important thing was missing: our family. This holiday is supposed to be one of “ach same’ach” – only happiness – but as I sat in the sukkah, I couldn’t help but miss my parents, siblings, grandmothers, and nieces and nephews.
What I try to keep in mind when I feel these pangs of longing is that some day the chagim we are experiencing now will be my kids’ memories – perhaps their very first of life in Israel. My kids who have been whisked along on this aliyah journey deserve to have their own happy crazy holiday memories that they can look back at with a smile and chuckle.
So while we reminisce with the kids about our family memories, my husband and I have also tried to focus on creating memorable holiday experiences for the kids. My husband and son attempted a camp-out in the sukkah, complete with sleeping bags and a lantern. (Turns out my city boys didn’t last the night away from their comfortable beds, but it was exciting while it lasted!)
We also went on a hunt around the city (within our lockdown-permitted one-kilometer perimeter) to spot interesting sukkot and decorations. Many of the sukkot were so different from those we were used to as Israeli apartments often have porches that provide the requisite three sukkah walls and only need schach to complete the sukkah.
While plenty of sukkot were decorated with homemade paper chains, we were duly impressed by a 65 meter (200 foot!) chain that spanned across four sukkot in three different buildings!
As Yom Tov ended, it was strange not to be able to call my family and compare notes on the chag. It was even stranger not to be able to call the next day, when it was Chol HaMoed here in Israel but a second day of Yom Tov back in North America.
But as I write this article, waiting for their Yom Tov to end, I am excited to call them and share our new memories and hear about their own. I hope b’ezrat Hashem, that our family will soon be able to share Sukkot together so that we can create memories b’yachad once more.