“That sukkah looks like a bus kiosk,” said my landlord. He had come over to kibbitz as I finished a long afternoon of building a 10’x6′ hut on the lawn. My little shelter is not quite complete yet — I still need to create a roof made of skhakh (all-natural materials, such as branches collected from the nearby woods), set up a table and chairs inside, install some festive strings of lights. When all the decorations are up, I’ll welcome friends for a rustic meal to inaugurate this “Jewish camping holiday.”
Sitting out there on a New England autumn evening, under a flimsy, many-holed roof, within walls no more substantial than torn shower curtains (which is what they are), we may freeze our butts off and get rained on, but we won’t care. We’ll be “living deliberately,” as Thoreau would say, “fronting the essential facts of life.”
Like Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond, the sukkah is meant to be a simple, temporary dwelling place that reminds us of the reality of impermanence, and challenges us to find joy in that very ephemerality. Dwelling for a week in an uncomfortable little shack is Jewish tradition, which also dictates that we be joyous all the while.
It turns out that I built this tabernacle closer to the driveway than last year’s. Now that my landlord mentions it, I must agree that my sukkah does resemble a bus stop. Which is perfectly legit: As it is written in Ecclesiastes, which we’ll read on Sukkot, “Life is just a bus ride.”