When I was quite young, I wanted a sukkah, but my family lived in a Brooklyn apartment, and there wasn’t any place to build one. When Jerry and I married, we found an apartment on the sixth floor. When Sukkot came around, I said, "Why don’t we build a sukkah on our fire escape?" Of course, I knew this was not possible. We would have to climb through a window to get to it, and besides, I’m sure the landlord would have not appreciated this. So I had to wait another few years before getting my sukkah.
Jerry Rosen, Helen Levine, and Chuck and Ruth Shain enjoy a Sukkot meal in the Rosens’ Teaneck sukkah. Photo by janice rosen
When we moved to Teaneck in 1964, there were not many sukkahs. However, two of our first friends, Bob and Helen Levine, did build one and we were fortunate to be invited each year. Finally, after we’d lived in our home for several years, we decided to have new windows installed. You are wondering what this has to do with a sukkah? Here goes.
Our old windows had full screens, and I decided not to discard them; they were to become our first sukkah. My husband thought I was nuts, but I was determined to get my sukkah. My sons helped me build it. We connected the screens into a unit, nailed it to one side of our garage, put a few decorations in it, went down to the railroad tracks, cut some schach, and we had our small, but wonderful, sukkah.
Every year, until my four sons were out of elementary school, we invited their classmates and friends to our sukkah. We made jelly apples and cookies for all the children. My sons would explain to all the meaning of Sukkot.
After several years our sons decided we needed a real sukkah. We depended on Jerry, since he is an architect, to come up with the final plan. Our sukkah’s ‘-by-3-inch frame is wood and it measures 11 by 11 by 8 feet high and is wrapped in lightweight egg-shell-colored canvas.
I love our sukkah. We have used it for more than 30 years, and it’s given us many good memories. Each year we joined with three other families to hold a sukkah hop. In our sukkah, which was closest to our synagogue, we had a kiddush, to which we invited the whole congregation. Sometimes we had more than 100 people for kiddush. After kiddush, the four families gathered at Stuart and Joan Weiner’s sukkah for a leisurely lunch, and then for dessert, we went to Bob and Helen Levine’s sukkah. Chuck and Ruth Shain did not build a sukkah, but their family was always included. Jerry and I and our children have enjoyed building our sukkah each year, going for the schach, decorating, and entertaining, but most of all I enjoy just sitting in the sukkah. It reminds me not only of our ancestors but also of the closeness of our family, of how we do things together. I pray that we will always be closeknit.
I get a special, spiritual feeling when I sit in my sukkah. When there is a breeze and the canvas moves, I feel freedom; when the sunrays come through, I feel a closeness to God. I feel content and peaceful, and I find it easy to meditate and to pray. In a sense, it is more meaningful for me to do these things in my sukkah than in a synagogue, even though we go to services almost every Shabbat. Perhaps the fact that we have only very few days in the sukkah each year makes those days so precious.
Our children are grown with children of their own, and we still put up our sukkah every year. We are lucky however, that our children and grandchildren live close by and are here to help build the sukkah. Together, with our garden tools, we still go to cut the schach. However, it is not as easy as it used to be to put up the sukkah, even with help. In the past several years, Jerry and I said, "This is the last year," but when Sukkot rolls around, we again are ready to build our sukkah. This year, when I was decorating it, I said to Jerry, "This is it," but the good weather and the enjoyment of guests, some of whom are sukkah-less, may change my mind. I think of all our family, friends, fellow congregants, fellow employees, even my hairdresser, who no longer will be able to enter my sukkah, and I am not sure if "this is it." Maybe we’ll still say, "Next year, in the sukkah."