The Festival Of Booths


A family’s sukkah can be their home away from home.

Like a collection of charming, if sometimes haphazard, larger-than-life boxes, sukkahs begin appearing outside Israeli homes soon after Yom Kippur. It’s almost a tradition, in fact, to start work on the booths hours after the fast is over.

There are early birds in the United States, too, but it isn’t unusual to see families putting the finishing touches on their sukkot just as the holiday is about to begin (alongside neighbors who leave theirs up year-round).

Regardless of when the sukkah is constructed, Sukkot is a wonderful holiday. It has adventure (like sleeping outside), physical prowess (it takes strength to put up that little “home”), a lot of good eating and plenty of opportunity for creative artistic expression with sukkah decorations. It’s also a lot of fun for children, thanks to sukkah hopping, where boys and girls visit neighborhood sukkahs and snack on goodies left for visitors.

The holiday, which recalls the sukkot, or booths, in which the Israelites lived in after the Exodus, lasts seven days. Whether you’re looking forward to your first or your 50th Sukkot, here are a few facts to get you ready for the big day:

You don’t have to be Bob Vila to come up with a great sukkah. While some people enjoy creating their own homes for the holiday, Jewish bookstores sell pre-fab sukkot that can be raised in a minute. There are no rules regarding material used for the walls, but before you start building, consider this:

The sukkah’s roof should be covered with enough material (wooden strips, straw mats, tree branches) so that there is more shade than sun inside. At the same time, the “roof” shouldn’t be so thick that heavy rain couldn’t penetrate. But don’t worry: you don’t have to stay outside if there’s a thunderstorm. In fact, Halachah, or Jewish law, commands Jews to stay inside the house if rain is pouring down into the sukkah.

Houses in which we live year-round generally have four walls (unless you call an alien spaceship home), but a sukkah requires only a minimum of three.

Watch where you build! The sukkah should be out under the wide, open sky, partner, and not underneath a tree.

The sukkah must be “adorned,” but there’s a great deal of debate about just what that constitutes. Lubavitch families leave their sukkahs plain, feeling this “adorned” enough. Almost everyone else enjoys hanging posters or decorations on their sukkah walls.

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