The entire congregation of about 30 people crowded into the tiny sukkah built against the side of the Nairobi synagogue. The walls were made of some sort of matting, probably the same reed mats that are today popularly used as roofing for sukkahs all over the world. Palm branches, shaven from the stately Washington palms that dot the synagogue's exquisite gardens, constituted the roof.

Every year, on the first night of Sukkot, I sat wedged between my parents on one of the hard, narrow benches that lined the flimsy sukkah walls and listened to the blessing over the wine. I gazed at the yellow reed walls, at the stars peeking through the palm branches and I wondered what Sukkot was all about. My father explained that we sit in the sukkah to commemorate the Clouds of Glory that accompanied the Jews through the desert.

I crossed the chasm between my old life and the new life I wanted to liveI couldn't imagine what Clouds of Glory looked like, but I was sure that deep inside the soft clouds, the Jews in the desert must have felt like I felt in the sukkah outside the synagogue in Nairobi: safe, cozy and aware, very aware, that I was part of something holy. Over the years, I learnt more and formed a fuller picture.

High school behind me, I came to Israel. Here, on a bridge braced with supports from my childhood, I crossed the chasm between my old life and the new life I wanted to live. As I learned about my heritage, my childhood perception of the sukkah gained depth and breadth, while retaining its initial aura of protection and holiness.

Throughout Torah literature there is the concept that the sukkah is a temporary residence that reminds us that the whole of this world is nothing but a temporary abode and that everything material is ephemeral. I spent many hours sitting in sukkahs all over Jerusalem during my initial years here. The first thing I learnt was that people don’t just bless the wine in the sukkah on the first night of the festival; they actually spend the majority of their time in the sukkah for a week. So the sukkah was indeed a “residence.”

I noticed that the structure of the sukkah generally fell into one of two categories: some consisted of a metal frame around which white cloth was wrapped to form four walls; some were built of light-brown flimsy wooden boards that rattled in the wind. All of them were very, very “temporary.” I naturally connected to the concept of transience, the devitalization of the material.

It fitted in with my psyche neatly: I was the girl who never noticed the fashion, who never visited the malls. I was the girl who meditated instead of watching Dallas on TV. In addition, my studies were helping me to understand more about the spiritual world that exists above this physical one.

A few years later, I was newlywed and living a street away from a neighborhood that forms part of the heart of Jerusalem—Mattesdorf. I was in love with creation, in love with my husband, in love with the new life that was beginning to stir within me.

One night, during the week of Sukkot, when it seemed that all of Mattesdorf had stayed up to celebrate, my husband and I went for a walk. We stopped outside a large, rectangular sukkah that was shrouded in darkness, but pulsating with soft song. Opposite the open door of the sukkah sat the rabbi. He was playing the keyboard and singing. Rows of tables crowded with young men lined the walls of the sukkah; they were singing in accompaniment. The rabbi’s eyes were shut tightly and his impressive beard swept across his chest as he moved his head from side to side in rhythm with the song.

I had learnt that Sukkot, coming after the cleansing of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is a time of intense closeness to our Creator. It is, in fact, the marriage between the Jewish people and G‑d.1 Many aspects of Sukkot help us to experience this marriage. The sukkah is symbolic of a chuppah, the canopy under which a marriage takes place. Just as a bride encircles the groom, we encircle Torah scrolls during the prayer services. In Israel, the festival lasts seven days, like wedding celebrations. Reminding us of marriage, Sukkot is therefore a time of intense joy. To underscore this, the Torah tells us three different times that we should be joyous on Sukkot.2 The image of the rabbi and his intense, spiritual joy, coming so close after my own marriage, inspired me tremendously and I found that my own delight in the festival increased.

I was in love with creation, in love with my husband, in love with the new life beginning to stir within meA few years later still, we are raising our family in Beit Shemesh, not far from Jerusalem. Sukkot, replete with a sukkah that becomes our “temporary residence” and the joy that characterizes the festival, has become a highlight in our lives. The Torah describes Sukkot as “the festival of ingathering, when the year comes full cycle ... ”3

On a physical level, the crops have been harvested and threshed; the bounty is about to enter our homes. Even those of us who are not farmers, are aware that the cycle of the year is coming to a close.

But there is also a spiritual level to remember. Sometimes, because the physical world is so obviously present, we may forget that the spiritual level is also coming to a close. Every year, when we host a simchat beit hashoeva, a sukkah party, for the members of our synagogue, I feel the spiritual cycle of my life coming full circle.

Our large sukkah is built from boards that my husband varnished a warming brown color. It is full of people sitting at tables laden with cakes and salads that we prepared. Soft singing, accompanied by the drumming of my sons on a darbuka, goblet drum, rises up into the warm night. A feeling of joy and peace hovers over the sukkah: I am back in the Clouds of Glory. The clouds which indicate the presence of my Creator and the peace that will one day reign over Israel and over the entire world.