Last night, the kids and I celebrated the first night of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot at a trendy rooftop restaurant in LA’s Koreatown that features a wide array of mouthwatering vegetables. It wasn’t your traditionally familiar celebration of the holiday – but then little of our time in LA has been traditional or familiar – so this fit right in.
We missed having Jacques there, but he was experiencing the season of fall in the middle of the country. And I found myself missing the blue canvas of our old homemade pipe-structured sukkah.
When we first began erecting our own sukkah, or canvas-sided “hut” covered by cornstalks and wood slats nearly 20 years ago now, it was a re-emerging home practice among the conservative Jewish community of Minneapolis. I always believed that observing the holiday became so appealing in the early to mid-1990s because many of us needed rituals and practices that slowed down the hectic pace of our pell-mell lives.
At the time, one of the more clever grandfathers of the Minneapolis day school community had come up with a sukkah “kit”; and his daughter, my friend Ellen Sue, and I showed that it was easy and fun to actually build your own with an 18 minute demonstration for other parents in the school. Voila - a home sukkah all ready to be decorated with hanging lights and children’s artwork. Today, the sukkahs, or sukkot, in the yards throughout the Twin Cities are all sorts of elaborate and festive.
And what’s not to love? It’s an 8-day holiday that features meals outdoors under the full moon peeking through the leaves of the covering of the temporary structure. And one of the “requirements” is to invite guests to join you for those meals.
The symbolism of erecting a temporary hut during harvest season that commemorates the 40 years our ancestors wandered in the desert makes this a particularly appropriate holiday for transitions of all sorts. And for Minnesotans, it’s one last chance to hold onto outdoor warmth prior to polar vortex season.
Last night in LA, as we dined under the moon overlooking Wilshire Boulevard, I remembered those gatherings of days past and was comforted to know that we still hold onto pieces and parts of the rituals that provide important markers in time. Our lives are different styles of pell-mell now, but as we move from chapter to chapter, and as the seasons turn one to the other, we still feel it important to pause and notice, and to be grateful for traditions that tie us to our community.