With the Jewish holiday of Sukkot starting on Friday night, Jews around the country have started building sukkot, or little huts, in their backyards to eat, sleep, pray, and celebrate in during the holiday.
This article is not for them.
This article is not for the Jews who buy pre-packaged sukkot booths to set up in their big backyards for a few hundred dollars from a Jewish hardware supplier online.
This article is for you. The Jew who has never built a sukkah before, or vaguely remembers that the last time you helped to build a sukkah, you were four-years-old and your job was to hang streamers from the ceiling.
We build sukkot to remind ourselves of the temporary structures Jews used in the dessert while fleeing Egypt, and then later stayed in during harvest season. If you want to make a perfectly kosher sukkah, you need to build it outside, and the roof needs to be made of something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, or two-by-fours. But many of us, in the 20s to 40s age bracket, don’t have a backyard. You have a tiny balcony on the 4th floor of a building in downtown, or a small homey porch in your house in one of the less-fancy suburbs. Worry not, you can still celebrate this holiday in a way that is meaningful, beautiful, and fun.
Ever since I was a little kid, my family transformed our house’s front porch into a sukkah. The ceiling was hung with paper streamers and chains. The walls were lined with corn stalks, pumpkins, and gourds. The floor was covered in a tarp, and then layers of blankets, pillows, chairs and cushions. We ate, drank, welcomed guests, slept, and even watched movies in the sukkah (a bonus if you have electrical outlets on your porch).
One of the holiday’s obligations is to “dwell” in the sukkah, so eating, sleeping and hanging out in the sacred space you create is essential. Another sukkot tradition is to invite guests into your sukkah to share in the holiday meals. You can celebrate these aspects of the holiday whatever your sukkah looks like, or however it is built.
Building the Sukkah
Cover the ground in a tarp, and then layers of blankets, pillows and cushions. Decorate the corners of your porch or balcony with harvest vegetables (corn stalks, pumpkins, etc) from the local farmer’s market. Decorate the walls, railings, or ceiling with paper chains, electric lights, paper lanterns, mobiles, etc. Use your creativity and get your kids (or your neighbor’s kids) to help. If you have electrical outlets like we did, bring out a space heater (it’s October in Minnesota folks), and a TV (if you still have one of those small portable ones).
If you’re trying to turn a tiny apartment balcony into a sukkah, your biggest hurdle is going to be space. My guess is that your balcony is big enough to fit 3-6 people maximum. Start by taking all your furniture off the balcony and putting it in a closet. You’ll fit more people sitting on blankets on the floor then in chairs.
Let us know in the comments how you built and decorated your porch or apartment sukkah this year. If you take pictures and post them online, send us a link. We’re always looking for new ideas.
I’m building one for the first time this year, but I’ve helped to assemble them before. I’m taking the middle path by not buying a prefab, but basically making my own that can be reassembled year after year. It can be done reasonably with a trip or two to Home Depot or Menards. I’ll let you know how the next two days go for me.
Please keep us in the loop Matt. We’d love to hear how it goes. Will your little one be able to help you build it at all?
She’s more of a hindrance than a help at this point. I’m trying to get it all completed this afternoon but the weather isn’t helping, nor is the little one going down for a nap like she should. I’ll also add that it’s been a little more expensive that I imagined it would be, but thankfully next year I’ll have a frame and walls that will be reusable. S’chach (?) isn’t nearly as cheap as it should be ($8 a bundle!).
I like what was done in the photo. I’m thinking that you could drape some nice, airy fabric over the railings, tie the ends with pretty ribbons, etc. That would at least provide a partial “wall” and it wouldn’t require a lot of work. Then just use your regular outdoor furniture to have meals, etc. I gathered the “boughs of goodly trees” and placed them in the containers I already had outside and it was quite pretty, especially with the willow branches cascading gently over the sides. You do what you can.