By Sarah Robinson
As fall approaches and the high holiday season engulfs our family, we start to prepare for our favorite festival. Sukkot, a celebration of nature, the harvest, and welcome, follows Yom Kippur, and falls squarely as the leaves begin to change and the air outside begins to cool down. For our heat-intolerant family, it often coincides with our reemergence from air conditioning to the naturally chilly outdoors. I wish I could remember who suggested observing Sukkot to my husband and me when we were deep in the throes of raising preschoolers and toddlers because they have enriched our Jewish lives immensely. While the holiday technically reminds us of the Jews wandering in the desert, we’ve always chosen to focus on gratitude, welcome, and nature in our celebrations.
This week, you’ll find my husband and kids constructing our back yard sukkah while I gather up the decorations and provide feedback on yard placement. After so many years we’ve gotten the building down to a science and a mix of old/recycled decor makes it easy to decorate. Between Hebrew school and a Jewish preschool, there’s rarely a shortage of fruit drawings or paper chains to hang! We also often add wax paper-ironed leaves that we’ve collected on hikes and decorative squash from the local farm. In short, the preparation for the holiday takes, at most, a few hours. This leaves time to actually relax and enjoy our sukkah and the holiday.
Traditionally, Jews are encouraged to eat all their meals in the sukkah and some families even choose to sleep outdoors. We do eat outside as much as possible and invite friends over as many evenings as we can. Being outside allows us to smell all those amazing fall smells and crunch through the leaves on our way to the table across the yard. Our kids love waving to the neighbors and explaining why we have a huge booth set up in the yard and the novelty of eating outside obviates any negotiations of video games and tablets.
This year will, of course, be different. We won’t be able to invite as many families to join us for dinner in the sukkah as we usually do, masks will be worn, and we will be socially distant. But we will still eat and laugh and enjoy the cool air. My family will talk about how grateful we are for what we have and discuss the commandment to welcome everyone into our sukkah. In short, we will enjoy Sukkot, autumn, and each other.
Sarah Robinson is a jkidphilly parent who lives in Media with her husband, Dave, and her three amazing children, Izzy (11), Ori (8), and Dov (5).