The Sukkah That Gave Me My Home
My friends know how driven (and desperate) I was to move out of our apartment. Aside from being a one-bedroom (and we were a family of six at the time), our landlord had to have been one of the most arrogant, selfish and stingy people I’ve had the misfortune to meet.
We moved into our home – just a block and a half from our old address – the day before Rosh Hashana. I’d kept our possessions minimal to say the least and so while we did do a few rounds of furniture in a work van of my husband, most of our “stuff” was carried in duffel bags or suitcases across the Parkway and down the street.
The single most voluminous item we transported were books. We had boxes and boxes and boxes of books.
I remember crossing the Parkway late one night, gingerly steering a trolly laden with whatever, Avrem stooping over duffel bags, and kids in tow each carrying or pushing their own peckel. Parked at the light in a snappy eco-friendly car was a guy we know. He’s not really a friend and certainly doesn’t see himself as a colleague – but he’s more than an acquaintance. Hello’s were in order. The contrast between his polished PC car and our motley crew stung. I felt like the mother bird in Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for the Ducklings.” Only I wasn’t nearly as courageous or elegant as that brave mom who’d left the river all the while holding it together on the way to her new nest.
My waved hello was a tassel hung from a mask. I blushed. I was tempted to empty myself of my shame by criticizing someone…
We got to the other side.
I cooked for that Rosh Hashanah in the apartment and we ate the meal in our new home. The house was so was empty. Big rooms full of space. And I, who had felt shame on the road, now took pride in my minimalism.
Yeah. We’re such complicated beings.
That year we built our own Sukkah for the first time.
For the last two years we’d lived in the apartment, I outright refused to eat in the communal Sukkah. Wouldn’t even walk into it. I’d made the shlep from the fifth floor to the Sukkah for eighteen years. I had the routine down pat: Milk crate to carry everything in, the list of what to take (washing cup and ladle were at the top of the list), knowledge as to which cauldron or pot worked best so as not to spill soup…and so on. One didn’t want to forget that soup ladle, or the honey, or the prayer books, or any of the other eminently forgettable items we’d inevitably remember the minute we stepped across the threshold of that hut. It wasn’t the climb I resented. It was the mess. Tenants used the Sukkah but no-one owned it. No-one took pride in it. No-one cared about the aesthetic. Plastic cups, tablecloths and even food scraps were left on tables and floor, often spilling over the garbage can.
So as I sat in our own backyard Sukkah the afternoon before the festival began, light streaming through the lattice and the roof laden with cedar leaves, lanterns hanging from the rafters and tables draped in Indian bedspreads, I felt myself subtly approaching bliss.
That would have been gift enough. But the real gift my Sukkah gave me arrived that night.
We often speak of the walls of the Sukkah as being G-d’s embrace. That evening, I experienced the Divine hug in a visceral way. Above my head, our double-duplex stretched into the sky. The walls were strong and large. But they were also in some mysterious way no different from the Sukkah in which I sat. I thought to myself, “Just as this boarded dwelling with its leafy roof is temporary, so too is the house. It’s not a house of straw, nor of sticks. It’s made of brick. But just like the Sukkah, it’s going to go away. Just as my body is going to go away one day.”
We’d struggled so hard to buy the house and suddenly, just two weeks later, it was a transient thing, no more permanent than the Sukkah.
Of course I had known that before but only with my head.
As my eyes traced the walls of the building through the edge of the schach, I felt a weight lift off of me. Sure, it was easier to be in that place because we already had the house. I’m not sure I could have “gotten” that holed up in our one-bedroom apartment resenting the noises and smells of the communal Sukkah. (Yeah. We’re such complicated beings.) Nonetheless, in that moment, I owned the home rather than it owning me. And the freedom that came with this knowledge was sweeter than the wild raspberry honey on the table.
Buying the house gave me our Sukkah. But it was the Sukkah that really gave me my home.