Alicia Scotti, a former Mothers Circle participant turned facilitator of Mothers Circle programs, has blogged for JOI.org in the past and is especially good at sharing her experiences raising Jewish children. Today, she offers her perspective on what celebrating Sukkot has meant to her family. For more guidance on how you can bring Sukkot into your family’s life, visit The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot here.
Sukkot was never much on my radar. Actually it didn’t really get there until several years ago, when my oldest was already halfway through high school (We live in NYC, which explains a lot.) Every year our temple would have a sukkah decorating party, to which we’d bring gourds, apples, and different things to tie to the structure that the maintenance staff had erected earlier that day. Afterward, we’d attend a Sukkot service, and we’d all huddle in the structure to shake the lulav and smell the etrog. It was always fun, but that was the extent of our Sukkot.
One year, out of the blue, my husband decided we should get our own lulav and etrog. Once he made that decision, it was a big deal! He did a lot of research about where to get the best ones, and conveniently one was our local Judaica store. Of course, however, he was working and couldn’t get away, so he sent me. Inside, there was a table stacked with etrogs, and another with the lulavs. The place was packed with people reaching over each other and pushing to get closest to the table to smell and examine each one until somehow miraculously the perfect one was found, and then on to the next table! I had no idea what I was doing, but I can smell. I can examine and take a good guess. So that’s what I did.
On each morning of Sukkot the kids would have their breakfast and then smell the etrog and shake the lulav. And they had a lot of fun doing it! It was interesting to watch because they clearly were enjoying this ritual – a little morning dance to the world. It was quite lovely – a way of somehow forming a bond with their ancestors.
A couple of years later we moved to a section of the Bronx called Riverdale, which is a bit more residential than other areas in NYC. In Riverdale, we have a nice patio, and because of this I discovered that my husband really loves Sukkot. Now, he wanted us to build our own sukkah! He investigated the different models online and then a kit arrived from someplace in North Carolina. We didn’t want plastic or “prefab” really, just something simple.
We bought the beams from the lumberyard. I bought fabric to act as the walls and found corn stalks for the roof. Then, we called our friend Gene (who happens to be agnostic) and said, “Wanna help build our sukkah?” He came over with his drill and level, and our young rabbi brought her daughter Ariella. We made apple pie, as Gene and Joe [my husband] drilled and hammered.
Later that evening, we built a fire, warmed some cider, and had a wonderful dinner with our various families in our first sukkah. It was a wonderful several days of enjoying the bounties of fruits and vegetables from our rich lands and the treasures of good friends, family, and community.
Some years we put it up, and some years we don’t. It does make it an extra special season when we do - even if we don’t eat in it every night. But it does take quite a bit of work to get it up, keep it up, and then pull it down. When our lives can afford this, we indulge. In the meantime the etrog and lulav are not something we ever forgo anymore.
It’s an easy and lovely ritual that we all enjoy and look forward to each year. So to all of you celebrating, chag sameach!