The cardboard box smells of dust and pine needles. The paper chains are faded and squished, and my brother and I throw most of them away. I find the Star of David woven from stalks of wheat and ribbon, and climb the teetering ladder to hang it in the doorway. I spread out the laminated posters of the the seven righteous men whose souls are said to visit the sukkah each year: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and King David—and we string the wooden and plastic fruits along the horizontal beams.

I try to see the stark, barren walls as beautiful Flash forward almost twenty years: My husband builds our sukkah heavy, with big wooden panels that trap in the heat. There are no bamboo curtains, like the delicate and airy sukkah of my childhood. Here there is not even a window. Our sweat grows sticky as we sit around the table. Per Lubavitch custom, we don't obscure the mitzvah's inherent beauty with paper chains and posters. I try to see the stark, barren walls as beautiful, but every year since I got married, I look for the bamboo, the hanging fruit, and the palm branches.

A little green at least. A little air. "Can't we use green schach (foliage and branches used to form a roof on the sukkah) this year?" I ask my husband.

"I'll try to find some," he promises as he leaves. "I'll see what I can do."

He comes back later with some more nails, the PVC floor, and light bulbs. No palm branches? But I don't ask him what happened, not out loud. He is sweating, and hardly stops for a drink before he is up the stairs to the roof of our building to finish the sukkah. He has forgotten my need for greenery. I don't mention it again.

My husband calls me up to look. He is pleased to be done early, and it is bigger than last year. All the walls are standing straight; even on the side where there is nothing to support it from the back. I enter, feeling the largeness before the tables are brought in. Four sides, up and down. All wood. Despite the spaciousness, I feel closed in. It reminds me of the huge, impersonal sukkah in the back of my parents' synagogue, with dirty napkins and plastic cups blowing about between the legs of the folding tables. I want to cry. Where is the delicate feminine touch? Garlands of wheat and painted fruits? Colorful curtains? The festive breezes curling in from between the slats of bamboo walls?

Where is the feminine touch?My parents built their sukkah with no metal. We tied everything with thick twine. And we watched the stars through the green branches, smelled figs and roses through the thin walls.

Could we at least cover the walls with white sheets, like most people here inJerusalem? I raised this issue last year and I know the answer.

You know, I think we will need a window so we don't suffocate. I don't say these things. I swallow softly and look at my husband, who bends to collect his hammer and extra nails, then continues watching me, expectantly. He is smiling with pride, squinting into the sunlight, as he takes off his kippah, wipes his forehead with it, and returns it to its place.

I find myself smiling too. "Wow," I say. "This is great! How'd you get it so much bigger this year? We can have the whole yeshiva over!"

Maybe he hears my reticence, or maybe some of my nostalgia leaked out onto my face.

He asks: "Do you like it?"

I don't look around again, just at him. At how hard he's worked—how he wants to please me. "It's beautiful," I say, and try not to think about it again. Maybe we don't need beautiful when we have a mitzvah.

Later I bring up the candles and set them in the far corner. One short green branch now lies haphazardly over the doorway. I smile that he remembered. The flames catch onto the wicks easily, as the sturdy walls protect the candles from the wind. In the sunset, the wood glows, almost golden, and the unexpected thought tugs lightly on the fringe of my mind: How peaceful it all looks with nothing to mar its beauty.

The yeshiva students come; they eat, they sing, they dance: beards swaying, sidelocks bobbing. I don't know how the sukkah holds them all. The walls swell, sweating. The voices cascade over the rooftops.

I smooth down the white and purple tablecloth and arrange the flowers in the vase. The solemn candlelight marks the walls with fiery shadows, and for a moment I wonder if I am seeing the pillar of fire on the six white clouds—the blessing of the Divine protection which accompanied the Jews as they wandered in the desert on their way out of Egypt so many years ago, and which we recall when we enter the sukkah.