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Waiting for return from Afghanistan: ‘The sukkah of peace’

SUKKOT, the third pilgrimage festival in the Jewish calendar, commands all Jews to build temporary structures in commemoration of the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the desert.

While the holiday is also a harvest festival, it’s highly doubtful you’ll find any urban Jews in Denver –– or any city, for that matter –– yanking edible fruit off the nearest tree.

But walk through any neighborhood during these cool autumnal evenings and you’ll probably encounter a well-lit sukkah standing guard against the chill –– and fulfilling the mitzvah.

Families often build their sukkah in the same spot every year. Extra chairs accommodate an expanding brood. Children and grandchildren deck the fragile walls with their latest scribbling, and in-laws contribute new recipes.

Those who are alone, divorced, widowed, strangers to the area — or simply lack the available space –– may forgo building a sukkah.

Some even decline sukkah invitations, preferring bleak familiarity to the happily familial. Then again, many welcome the opportunity to step into such an unlikely enclosure of human delight and divine presence.

The day after Yom Kippur –– four days before erev Sukkot –– the IJN contacted three Denverites to ask what’s new in their sukkah for 5770.

Answers ranged from the hospitable to the inventive; the practical to the spiritual.

But everyone concluded the brief interviews with emphatically identical entreaties:

“Please come to our sukkah!”

JAN and Dr. Phillip Lightstone, now married 33 years, have always invited newcomers to join their sukkah mix –– but this year they’ve instituted what Jan calls “a very integrated system.

“At the meals we host, we’re going to have as many new people or those who don’t have a sukkah as friends and family,” she says. “Our goal is not only trying to be inclusive but also making new connections with the Jews in our community.”

Last year, the Lightstones hosted 18 to 20 individuals at each meal. That figure will now expand to an estimated 25 or 30.

Anyone who knows Jan Lightstone can vouch for her hospitality, which is modeled upon Abraham’s gracious treatment of the three visitors, or ushpizin, who appeared at his tent.

“Sukkot is a holiday where you really have to act in order to fulfill the mitzvah,” she says. “It’s not enough to just open a prayer book and pray. During Sukkot, your actions really fulfill the commandment.”

For example, her son Sam plans to sleep in the sukkah with two of his friends from Yeshiva University.

“You won’t catch me doing that,” she laughs. “But just having a snack or a cup of coffee in the sukkah and enjoying the glorious sunshine fulfills the mitzvah.”

While she can arrange the correct number of places at each meal, she is cognizant that she can’t control the weather.

“My first child, Tamar, was born in Cardiff, Wales, between Yom Kippur and Sukkot,” she says. “My husband built a really temporary sukkah” that was quickly demolished by a torrential Cardiff rain. “You can try your best, but G-d is in control.”

Jan, who attends the DAT Minyan, understands that some people are reluctant to enter a veritable stranger’s sukkah. “But when you’re willing to be with others, you’ll find that it’s incredibly welcoming,” she says.

“In the same way that Abraham opened his own tent.”

Speaking of their physical sukkah, Jan admits “we’ve made a lot of modifications over time. This year we may be adding some funky stuff on the wall, like a fake parrot. But the week is still young.”

ALLAN and Suzan Markman bought their home in southeast Denver in 1979, but didn’t build a sukkah until fairly recently.

Like the structure itself, the holiday has evolved into a very comforting part of their Jewish lives.

“I wanted to construct a sukkah for many, many years,” Allan says, “but I was probably too lazy.

“Then about five years ago I said, ‘By golly, I’m going to do it!’”

The result is a state-of-the art enclosure that incorporates the back deck of the home.

The couple’s sukkah cuisine is excellent, varied and always tantalizing.

For the past few years, Allan has invited the entire Saturday morning minyan at Temple Sinai to his sukkah.

“We sent out fliers, but you know how that goes,” he says. “I expect about 20 people will show up.”

The menu will feature falafels, humus and assorted salads –– plus potluck dishes created by the minyan members.

Allan slept in the sukkah “once or twice during my younger days,” he deadpans. “And if the weather is warm, I’ll sleep there during this year’s holiday.”

To build the booth, he hangs a four-by-eight feet wooden lattice off the deck and uses summer overgrowth from his evergreen trees for the shach –– “the green that goes on the top,” he translates. The Markmans constantly collect decorations for the sukkah.

“If we see something ideal for our sukkah, we buy it,” Allan says. “We’ve probably acquired two or three boxes of decorations –– way too much to put up.”

A Torah chanter and avid student of Torah, Allan has discovered a refreshing shelter of peace inside his sukkah.

“I often sit in the sukkah by myself in the early afternoons or evenings,” he says.

“There’s definitely a spiritual dimension inside this temporary shelter.”

FOR Adrienne Narrowe, wife of US Air Force Chaplain Joshua Narrowe, military life is the essence of geographical temporality.

Last year she was in Omaha for Sukkot.

This year she’s in Denver.

Without her husband.

Joshua Narrowe is in Afghanistan leading High Holiday services for Jewish troops and won’t be back in time to build a sukkah.

So she’s doing it herself.

“I can deal with tools,” assures the mother of three and veteran of numerous postings. “After all, I assembled all our IKEA furniture.”

Adrienne discovered the Sukkah Project, an online site in North Carolina, and ordered a kit.

“It’s like sukkahs for total klutzes,” she says. “But I would rather have an authentic sukkah, even if it means getting a few splinters.”

The Narrowes relocated to Denver in July when Joshua was appointed Jewish chaplain at USAFA in Colorado Springs.

Adrienne says Denver’s Jewish community has welcomed her with inexhaustible open arms.

And if she encounters a problematic glitch in her sukkah instructions, “I’ve no doubt any number of people would be here to help me.”

The location of her sukkah may move from place to place, but the plastic grape decorations are permanent. “They will be hanging over our heads,” she laughs.

This won’t be the first time her husband is away during the holidays, and it won’t be the last.

Yet Adrienne possesses a remarkable ability to keep things in perspective.

“I realize how many people have lost a loved one or been divorced or are alone,” she says. “They don’t even have a sukkah.

“So my husband isn’t here. G-d willing, he will be back before the end of Sukkot.”

Reluctant to define the holiday in theological terms, she will only comment on its personal significance.

“Everything’s temporary,” she says. “When I moved here, I heard stories of sukkahs blowing down the street due to snowstorms and rain. It’s different every year.

“Even the constancy we enjoy –– the roof over our heads –– should remind us that G-d alone is holding that roof above us.”

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IJN Senior Writer | [email protected]

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