“It’s still standing!”
This was the daily joke in the Altman household during Sukkot.
We had had our share of problems with the Colorado wind wreaking havoc on our sukkah. Every morning, one of our daughters would run to the window to see if it was still upright. It was Sukkot, the Season of our Rejoicing, and the Altman girls were proud of the part they played in building and decorating the sukkah.
Our family has been constructing a sukkah in our backyard for more than 30 years. Our first sukkah was made of plywood and 2 by 4 boards that were anchored in cement blocks.
My husband, Gary, was out of town the weekend it needed to be built, so my neighbor came over to help me erect it. Unfortunately, Gary had only bought three pieces of four-foot plywood, so when we stood it up, it was the size of a phone booth.
That year, we put one corner of our bridge table inside the sukkah. Two people sat inside the sukkah, and two people sat outside. The following year, we bought more plywood.
The next type of sukkah we tried was a frame made of PVC pipe with vinyl tarps tied on at grommet intervals.< This lasted a number of years, but was drafty because the tarps did not quite cover the corners of the plastic frame. We rested branches on wooden lattices for the roof. [dropcap]Our[/dropcap] current sukkah, which we’ve used for at least 15 years, comes from a kit: “1-800-227-SUKA.”
The kit includes steel pipes for the frame and a tent-like canvas that stretches all the way around and zips up at the final corner.
For the s’chach, we have sheets of bamboo. We used to stretch the bamboo mats as tightly as possible from one end of the sukkah to the other; however, it tended to sag in the middle. We compensated for this by adding wooden dowels across the top in both directions. The bamboo is draped over these and tied on with cord. So far, we have had good luck with the wind in Colorado Springs.
Our sukkah seems to be sturdy enough to hold through our extreme weather.
We have tried to add improvements one at a time to our sukkah: changing from battery-powered lanterns to electric lights, adding an outdoor carpet for flooring, stringing small lights along the canvas walls.
Our decorations mostly consist of projects that our girls brought home from Temple Shalom’s preschool. As children, they loved helping me put them up. We eat as many meals as possible in the sukkah and have guests over for dinner when we can.
Denny Elston has been building a sukkah since 1985. Her present structure consists of a wooden frame covered by fabric walls. She uses old curtains that used to hang in a gazebo on her property.
Elston claims that she bought her present house with building a sukkah in mind. In the windy area of Colorado Springs in which she lives, she secures one side of the sukkah against her house; otherwise, her sukkahs blow away, “like a sail.” But, she says, “It can’t be too far from the house for serving.”
For previous sukkahs, Elston utilized PVC pipes and metal rods before settling on her wooden frame.
When she lived in Los Angeles, her s’chach was made of evergreen and California pepper tree branches from her yard. The roof of her current sukkah is bamboo mats.
Elston loves building her sukkah and celebrating Sukkot outside. She has slept in her sukkah twice, she says, and eats all her meals out there.
“I can’t imagine why more people don’t build a sukkah,” she says. “Sukkot is such a fun holiday, and generates much happiness.”
A story Elston tells about her sukkah-building: Once, when she lived off a courtyard in Los Angeles, the wind blew her sukkah against the front door of her house and collapsed it there. She could not enter her front door. A suggestion she has for beginning sukkah-builders is “tie it or secure it to something so it stays put.”
David Arnsteen has been building a sukkah for the past seven years. He has used the same materials for all seven years: wood lattices for walls attached by zip ties to vertical Rebar supports.
He enlarged the structure this year. It now has space for a cot and dinner table. Arnsteen sleeps in his sukkah every night during the holiday and eats all his meals there. He can see the nearby park from his cot.
Arnsteen likens the putting up of his sukkah to building a fort as a kid. His enjoyment remains the same. Arnsteen’s sukkah is not from a kit, and he tries to improve it a little each year. He had six guests for Shabbat dinner the first night.
Arnsteen made his sukkah somewhat bigger this year so that he had space for both the cot and table at the same time. In past years, he had to remove the table to make room for the cot.
Arnsteen’s funniest recollection in the sukkah is when he was rudely awakened in the middle of the night by a noise and found a raccoon sitting on the edge of his lattice where it meets the roof. He and raccoon stared at each other for a few minutes, and then the animal ran away. It took him some time to get back to sleep.
The building of a sukkah and the celebration of Sukkot are, as most Jews know, a time to imagine ourselves in temporary dwellings as we wandered through the desert in search of our Promised Land.
I join Denny Elston and David Arnsteen in encouraging everyone to try constructing a sukkah next year. I know our daughters came away with very fond memories of the holiday, even when we were eating outside wearing hats and gloves.
If you’re lucky, you will be telling stories of your sukkah for many years, such as the time we got locked out of our house between courses and had to force our way back into the kitchen by cutting through a window screen.