Thirteen years ago, Sukkot and I fell in love with each other all over again.
Growing up, the holiday was always an object of envy for me. As a day school student, Sukkot was an integral component of my education. Each day of the holiday I would have classes in the school’s sukkah (temporary dwelling). Our synagogue hosted festive sukkah “hops” where families opened up their homes to host parties in their sukkot (the plural of sukkah). My family didn’t participate; we had tried to build a sukkah when I was in third grade, but it wasn’t terribly successful so my mother didn’t try again. So here I was, in middle and high school, envious of my friends for their sukkot.
What I didn’t realize until most of the way through college was that I wasn’t jealous of my friends because they had sukkot; I was jealous of what it represented—the rituals and holiday celebration they honored every year. I resented that the holiday wasn’t “important” enough for my family to have a sukkah of our own. I knew that when I had a family of my own, I wanted to be that family and that house—the one my children’s friends would want to hang out at, the one that would be looked upon to host community events, with Sukkot being the highlight of the year. I just needed to find someone to build that dream sukkah with!
I met Phil in the fall of 2000. Within the first few weeks of dating he invited me to his apartment for Sukkot. I couldn’t believe he knew what a sukkah was, let alone that he had built one! Could he have known of my harbored love-hate relationship with the holiday? That night Phil and I started a tradition of writing the address of our sukkah and the names of our guests with permanent marker on poster board. There was something cheesy but also romantic about it. Maybe it was the smell of the spiced cider in the crisp autumn air, or maybe it was because he was using the word “our” and permanent marker. In any case, I fell in love with Phil that Sukkot.
Thirteen years later, our sukkah still has some wood from the original structure. It has seen six different addresses, two states and 13 different poster boards. We signed our daughter’s name for the first time in 2009. And last year was the first time she signed her own. We have welcomed family, friends and neighbors into our sukkah to celebrate with us, and each year we try to improve upon the structure in some way. We have added sinks, electrical outlets and new decorations. But some things haven’t changed—Phil still makes his homemade spiced cider and I make certain dishes that are reserved just for the holiday. And when the whole house smells like a potent mixture of cider and sweet potato lentil curry stew, we know Sukkot is coming!
We are the only house in our neighborhood with a sukkah, and probably one of just a handful in our whole town. But whether we have five guests signing the poster board or 85 (we’ve experienced both extremes!), the memories we are creating for our daughter and the welcoming environment we hope we have established in our community are in an effort to truly embody the phrase “v’samachta b’chagecha,” which means “and you shall rejoice in your holiday.”
Miriam Blue is the community development coordinator at the North Suburban Jewish Community Center (NSJCC) in Peabody. She lives in Lynnfield with her husband, Phil, and daughter, Talia.