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The Sukkahs in My Life

The Sukkahs in My Life

Connecting to My Past, Present, and Future

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The snow falls gently at first. Through the spaces between the bamboo branches I can see the darkening sky opening up above me. I am seven or maybe eight years old, and I reach out a mitten covered hand to catch a snowflake meandering down towards me. This is the first year that it has snowed in our sukkah, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. The orange and red hues of the autumn decorations are muted by the new, soft layer of white. Everyone else has gone inside, but I linger for a moment in my warm, navy coat with the gold buttons. I watch as the snow begins to gather speed and cover the long folding table and my patent leather shoes. I'm alone, but I don't feel lonely. I feel embraced by the snow and the silence of the night. I feel like G‑d is sending each snowflake down just for me; I marvel at the way each flake has its own shape, like millions of pieces of art filling the sukkah with their brilliant purity.

I feel held and protected Now I'm sitting in the sukkah at university. I'm homesick and tired. The first quarter exams are in full swing and my heavy knapsack sits beside my chair. But suddenly an autumn breeze blows a bouquet of red, orange and yellow leaves into the sukkah. I watch the way the midday sun slants through the roof and catches their fiery hues, reflecting them towards me like a luminous portrait of the sun. And I feel the burden of my exams melting in the sheer beauty of the autumn light. I feel held and protected, almost like I am home. I look at the huge sukkah and at all the Jewish students sitting at the rows of tables. And a slice of Jewish pride emerges slowly within my heart. We are all so far from home, but even here there is space for a miniature home, a sanctuary of comfort and shelter. When I leave the sukkah I pick up a stray, pale yellow leaf as I swing my knapsack over my back. It feels lighter somehow, like the leaf in my palm, warm from the honeyed glow of the sun.

It's our first year of marriage, and we are living in Petach Tikva, Israel. Our sukkah sits on our tiny porch beneath the searing heat of the sun. This is the hottest Sukkot we have ever known, and it's also the driest. We bring in our living room chairs and our air conditioner on wheels. We sit together around the small, white table speaking late into the night as the crickets chirp around us and the star studded sky of Israel peeks down at us through the palm tree branches. We are cautious and excited at the same time, like children un-wrapping a delicate gift. We feel like we are in the desert, an unfamiliar Land that is ours all the same. We don't know where we are going or how to get there. But the first time I serve dinner in our own sukkah, I can feel the holiness descend upon us. I stare at the way our new china plates gleam in the fragmented pools of moonlight upon our table, and then I look at my husband's face, full of love and hope. This is a new kind of peace that surrounds me; the deep peace of sitting beside your soulmate in a sukkah full of moonlight.

We are living now in the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, and we are gazing in awe down at the sukkah cot where our newborn daughter sleeps. Her arms lay above her head, like the shape of a heart; she breathes so softly we strain our ears to hear the soft rhythms of her sighs. I cannot believe the perfection of this miniature miracle, from her tiny toes to the blond wisps of hair that grace her forehead. There is a cool mountain breeze weaving its way through our canvas walls, and I cover her with a soft, pink blanket. We speak about the wonder of becoming parents and the sheer joy of holding our first child. Then we dream about what it will be like when our daughter has siblings; we can't imagine being more than three, just like we couldn't fathom being more than two people just a month before. I look at the three candle flames I lit for the holiday shining and reaching towards the green, leafy roof and towards the Jerusalem sky.

A cool breeze weaves through our canvas walls It is a few years later and the sukkah floor is covered with multi-colored pieces of paper from my children's home made decorations. They are alternately arguing and exclaiming over the new store bought decorations that we picked up in the city that day. We string the golden, glittering pieces in rows above us as my one-year-old son toddles uncertainly towards us. He claps his hands in delight as the decorations wave in the wind. I can see a patch of cloudless, blue afternoon sky through the huge leaves of the palm branches; the sky is so glaringly clear it looks almost like a painting. I think about how different the milky sky of my New York childhood was, and as the leftover bits of colored paper spread out beneath us, I reach out my arms to catch my son, feeling the reassuring arms of my own Father reaching out to me at the same time.

The chain of sukkahs in my mind include bits and pieces of other memories. Sometimes I imagine my grandparents' sukkahs in the courtyards and on the rooftops of the Lower East Side tenement buildings. And further still I think of the sukkahs in Poland and Hungary before the war; maybe they were also once covered in pure, white snow and filled with slices of autumn light. Maybe my great- great-grandparents sat across from one another in their own first year of marriage in a tiny sukkah in Europe filled with the light of a different moon. And I think of how the chain will, with G‑d's help, extend far into the future as my children build sukkahs of their own. But the depth behind this chain became clear to me when I heard this heart stirring story from a wonderful teacher, Rebbetzin Jungreis:

"It was right before the Nazis took over Hungary. I was a little girl. It was the middle of a bitterly cold winter. But my parents wanted to visit my grandparents, my Bubby and Zeide one last time on the other side of Hungary. The journey was fraught with danger since it was no longer safe for Jews to travel but, somehow, we made it there safely. We stayed with my Bubby and Zeide for a week, and every morning I would walk into my Zeide's study and he would smile at me and beckon to me to sit on his lap as he learned. On the last morning before we left, I felt a tear fall upon my face, and when I looked up I was horrified to see that my Zeide was crying. Frightened, I ran into the living room and cried to my father: "Tatty, Zeide is crying! Why is Zeide crying?" And then my father started to cry, and he took me by the hand.

"Come with me for a walk, and I'll explain to you why Zeide is crying." The snow was deep by that time of year as we walked out the door into the frigid air.

Do you see how I am making a path for you? "Walk behind me, lichtig kind (my precious light, my child) so that you won't sink in the snow. Follow my footprints." We walked for a bit, and then my father turned back to me and pointed at the footprints.

"Do you see how I am making a path for you? That is why Zeide is crying. Because now he is learning, to make a path for others to follow. He's learning for you and for your children and for your children's children."

Rebbetzin Jungreis didn't understand it then, but she remembered the footprints in the snow. And she said that we are all Jews today because all of us had a Zeide and a Bubby who cried for us and made a path for us in the snow. Sometimes the snow seems too deep and the night seems too dark. But there is a path for us beneath it all. And I think now about all the sukkahs stretching all the way back to the ancient shelter of the clouds in the desert. And I think about the path that was carved for us by the sukkahs of each generation. Every year our new sukkah joins the chain, making a new footprint for the sukkahs that will follow. And one day we will merit to sit in the final sukkah, basking in the ultimate Light that holds all other light.

Sara Debbie Gutfreund lives with her husband and children in Waterbury, Connecticut. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Masters in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas.
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Discussion (5)
October 11, 2009
I am not Jewish but long to be and I am too far from a schul to study. My house burnt down on Jewish New Year. While it gets rebuilt I feel very displaced in a rented home with my own home being presently inhospitable to even forest mice! Now I realize that I have my own wanderings and a Sukkah to live in. This story had brought peace to my sad state and a smile to my tense face.
Anonymous
October 8, 2009
The Sukkahs In My Life
Dear Sara Debbie:
Your beautifully written article brought back memories of the Sukkahs in my life and the contrast from sitting with jackets and gloves in our Toronto Sukkah complete with carpet and heater (and snow in our soup) as a child to the heat of our Florida Sukkah as a teenager, to my first Sukkah as a Kallah in Crown Heights (on the roof of our building) to our present Sukkah in Richmond, B.C. in which I held a Sukkah party last night for the women of my community. Soon IY"H we will all be united in the biggest Sukkah in the world in Yerushalayim with Moshiach. Thanks for the memories and Chag Samayach.
Esther Tauby
Richmond , B.C/Canada
October 8, 2009
Sukkah
As I read your moving description of your Sukkah a great sadness came over me. This year me and my family have build our first ever Sukkah. We live in South Africa and have curently started on the conversion program. I don't have footsteps in the snow to follow only a still small voice calling me to the paths that was made by many Jewish people. I thank you for your stories and sharing that makes our path a little brighter. Be blessed and I look forward to your novel
Ronel Brink
South Africa
October 7, 2009
Sukkah
A beautifully written piece. Wonderful memories & a history for your children.
Katie
Sydney, Australia
October 6, 2009
my sukkah
How wonderfully you describe the "chain" of sukkos in your life, in all our lives. I sit in the searing heat of our south Florida sukkah (3 huge fans help...) and think of the cool breeze and the incredible clear blue sky of our Jerusalem sukkah last year, and of the fresh autumn air of our Brooklyn sukkahs, where we lived for many years. May we soon merit the sukkah of all sukkah, the clouds of glory, as we all make our way back home to Jerusalem and the 3rd and everlasting Temple. Happy Sukkos to all!
Malka
Miami, Florida
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