Saturday, December 7, 2019 -
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A different Sukkot

I WON’T lie to you and tell you that I don’t miss the holiday of Sukkot in Israel. I won’t pretend that I don’t long for that Jerusalem landscape of beautiful, hand built, wooden sukkah bungalows, artistic fabrics structured into little huts, or elegant garden lattice gazebo-like charms filling every space, every nook and cranny of the city, as far as the eye can see. On balconies, in courtyards, in apartment building lots . . .  just everywhere.

It’s that tangible and magical Sukkot feeling and experience.

But I do have a confession to make. Full disclosure: Sukkot in Manhattan has its own charm.

Precisely because the rush of the city and the obliviousness of secular life is surrounding you without pause, suddenly finding your place at the sukkah feels like home. It is fun and meaningful.

Unlike in Israel, or even in the luxury of suburbia in a lovely Denver neighborhood, there actually is no space for a sukkah in this city!

The logistics of putting up a sukkah in a secular apartment building culture is not simple. Most people don’t have the space. Hence, the communal aura that Sukkot in Manhattan takes on.

This was an unexpected experience for me. And it was nice.

Built between the cramped alleyways and fire escapes, on the windy rooftops of buildings, in the tiny courtyard of a brownstone, or a shul’s playground — there aren’t that many sukkahs, and so everyone relies on each other.

Prepaid communal meals, at which everyone eats together, is normal. Lugging and toting still warm and wrapped meats and kugels from home, to be eaten at the shul’s sukkah with friends or family, is just what you do.

Instead of Sukkot being a time when you are the prince or princess of your little temporary palace, taking pride in the effort of your own adornments, and with the accompanying sukkah hops, here in the city it is completely different.

Sukkot in Manhattan is the great equalizer.

Everyone is kind of in the same boat, needing to find a shady sukkah to bring their food to, and to hang out in. There is something nice about that.

Something bonding about sharing your colorful and satisfying meals with one another, sipping wine late into the night with the other sukkah gatherers.

And so it was.

I reached another Sukkot. And experienced a different kind of Sukkot.

NOW, as we draw to the end of this holiday, we will pray for the gift of rainwater. It’s funny, isn’t it, how all week we want the rain to be held in abeyance, almost perceiving rainfall during the week of Sukkot as rejection —for we are prevented from dwelling and inhabiting and cultivating the joyousness of Sukkot in its natural setting, the way we ought to?

And then comes the very end of the holiday and we implore G-d: Bring it on! Now we want water, a blessed deluge of water!

Water is that fluid that transcends definitions. It changes its shape and transforms itself. It is a symbol of birth, of being reborn.

As the conclusion of the Days of Awe is upon us, bringing to a close the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and even the structured walls that the sukkah represents, we mark the transition from this holy and meaningful time of year to our more regular, day-to-day lives, by praying for water.

A symbol of rebirth, and an element that takes on many forms.

As we transition from the time of year that gives us a glimpse —let’s us dare imagine —the best people we can be; the time when we are more meticulous in observing the commandments and honoring one another; as we transition into the inevitable mistakes we will make, we depart from this time with the symbol of water.

No matter where this year will take us, somewhere inside we should know there is always that contact between us and our Creator, just like that round drop of rain that touches us from the sky.

Whether it will be rivers that will be conduits carrying us to fuller waters, tsunamis that overwhelm or destroy, whether it will be the turbulent waters of a storm or, hopefully for us all, the peace and clarity of gliding al mei menuchot, on peaceful waters, whether it will be the beauty of the waterfall that washes away the old and brings in the new, fresh and pure — as water so easily changes form, we, too, even when the time changes and it is no longer the intensity of the Days of Awe, can find it possible to change and transform throughout the entire year.

It is possible to reshape ourselves as we go along, bobbing along the life that will be ours this coming year. Water reminds us how fluid we always can be, enables us to know we can always reshape ourselves as a response to what this year will bring.

May we be blessed with rich, sustaining, yet gentle waters this year.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!



Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park


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