by Kim Laberly
Perhaps of all the Jewish holidays that are celebrated in Israel, Succoth is the most widely enjoyed. Whether one is from the orthodox persuasion or on the other side of the spectrum, totally non observant, sitting and sleeping in a Succa holds a charm that transcends the line of religious groupings.
Nothing seems more enjoyable than hearing the nightly singing of the neighbors as they too sit in their succa enjoying the holiday. Sleeping in the succa also has its special charm as we drift to sleep under the watchful eyes of the stars.
As one travels about in Israel, in all neighborhoods, rich and poor, urban or rural, religious or not, one will see the timeless succots. Each built utilizing the available materials and according to the design of the individual builder. Although prefab succots are available, most seem to make do with materials that are locally available.
Nothing brings together a family like enjoying a meal in a succa and nothing is as enjoyable to children as sleeping in a succa. This is especially true if the children helped construct it.
Although the deeply devout begin building their succots immediately following the Yom Kippur fast, it is not unusual to see the succots begin to develop shortly after Rosh Hashanah.
To make a proper succa one only needs to follow the following guidelines:
Succots should be built in a clean place. The closer to your house means the more convenience for you. It should not be built under a tree or under the roofing of a house, but directly under the heavens.
Whereas the walls can be constructed of almost any material, it is essential that the walls, if made of cloth, be strung tensely so that they do not waver in the wind. The most common material used for the walls is wood. It is the easiest to work with. Many people use one or more of the walls of their home as a wall for the succa, since brick and stucco can also be used.
The most important aspect of the succa is the sckach, the distinctive roofing. The sckach must be made from plants or trees that are detached. Common forms of sckach are bamboo poles, palm branches, discarded tree branches, thin wooden slits, and lately the prefabricated woven mat-like bamboo sckach has become popular since it is reusable and stores with relative ease. The width of the individual pieces of wood that is used for sckach should not exceed some 4 inches in width.
The sckach should not be tied together with string or rope nor should it be a wooden item that has a use such as a ladder. In addition, nothing that is unsuitable for sckach such as a rake or a shovel should be laid upon the sckach to hold it down. A temporary cover may be used as long as it is removed before the succa is inhabited, a must during rainy weather.
Enough sckach should be put on the succa so that the shade is greater than the sun. Keep in mind that fresh sckach dries out and shrinks, meaning that if the sckach is just enough at the beginning of Succoth, it is highly possible that by the middle of the holiday, the sckach will shrink allowing too much sun in the succa!
Many enjoy leaving the sckach in a manner that they can see through the sckach the stars at night. Others however, are fond of a thick covering of sckach. If the sckach is too thick that if it rained, water would not leak through, then this is not considered proper sckach, but rather a roof. It is essential that there not be a space of 12 inches between the sckach.
Many have the custom of decorating their succas. In Jerusalem, the city sponsors a contest to determine who has the most beautiful succa. Sheets are hung on the walls, with pictures and decorations. Streamers are strung from the sckach with ornamental lights and fruits, sometimes plastic, sometimes real are hung from the sckach. All of this is to enhance the succa experience.
On the other hand there are those who do not believe in decorating their succa, they believe that the essential succa experience is in the barren walls and un-enhanced sckach. In this manner, they re-experience the exodus from Egypt when the Jewish nation lived in temporary huts as they journeyed to the promise land.
Irregardless as how you choose to built and decorate your succot, you will experience and enjoy the ultimate in Jewish experiences.
from the September 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine