Not raised with a family sukkah during my childhood, I began the journey towards my own sukkah when my own children were young teenagers. With a small urban back garden, we explored our limited options and chose a kit to build a crude wooden structure. For the first few years, our “casbah sukkah” consisted of little more than a simple Sukkah Project kit, a set of 2×4’s from Home Depot, as many of our collection of tablecloths and Indian spreads as we could tack up for sides, and a roof of as many small branches as we could glean from the nearby riverbank.
We had no decorations beyond a couple of camping lanterns and citronella candles (we battle an army of mosquitos), and the lights emerging from neighbors’ sukkahs beyond the garden fences. With friends and neighbors joining us for impromptu dinners, we practiced the hospitality that suffuses Sukkot. On our own, we imagined ourselves camping out in the backyard, our crude booth a sweet extension of family camping in the Berkshires in the family tents every summer. Our garden transformed, we were very thankful.
When we lost access to the riverbank scrub, we upgraded to a pair of bamboo-slat roof panels. These seemed to make the sukkah more “official”, until the years the cloths and thumbtacks refused to hold against the week of rain, and we realized that the garden plants were choked for lack of sunlight. We improved again, adding Ikea bamboo roll-up shades for walls. With this improvement, we thought our sukkah most elegant; we enjoyed privacy and shade during the daytime, evening breezes and protection from the elements in the evening, and offered the garden sunlight when the sukkah was vacant. The sukkah and garden were in harmony.
This year the sukkah will “go native”. My dream of a painted sukkah will be realized as I begin to transform it as I’ve done to other trash-picked furniture we live with daily (such as our living room table, and company chairs like this, and this), painting it like many of my quilts (like this or this). At one time I’d have painted the entire house like a quilt, but now I’ll settle for the sukkah. Last weekend was spent priming the dozen 2×4’s with gesso, preceded by something of a shopping spree in the paint aisle.
With meetings planned in the sukkah for an interfaith reading group, the local chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, a group from Rodeph Shalom’s Torah study project, as well as odd visits from friends and neighbors, I’ll have much to do to transform the garden and sukkah into a space for making peace.
You’ll find updates on the progress of the sukkah and its knitted fruits and vegetables here.