The Year of the Flying Sukkah

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06 Oct 2008

This story took place close to a decade ago. Although it’s about a flying Sukkah, it really began about a week before the holiday, when the stores throughout Jerusalem were selling a new type of Schach that could be used over and over again. Their advertisement ditty, “U’b’Sukkaseinu…” played to a catch tune, blared throughout the streets of the city, and everyone, myself included, found themselves humming it underneath their breath as they busily prepared for the upcoming holiday.

“It’ll be so much easier for you to build your Sukkah with this new type of Schach,” I told my husband. “And it won’t make such a mess in the house,” I added. Every year my husband, together with our four boys, dragged the old, wilted palm branches that we used for schach up from the bomb shelter where they were stored during the year. Somehow, as they maneuvered the schach and Sukkah boards down the hallway, over the dining room table and across the living room, they would manage to bang into at least one piece of furniture (to make sure that we’d never forget the holiday), and leave a few wilted brown palm “droppings” on the floor.

This year, I had visions of a clean living room and a very calm and quiet erev Sukkot.

But my husband insisted on roofing our Sukkah with the old-fashioned palm branches. “We’ve always used them, and we’ll continue to use them,” he said.

I was frustrated. But it wasn’t worth arguing about, and besides, he was the one who shlepped the palm branches up from the bomb shelter and positioned them on the Sukkah roof.

So we ended up being the only family in our apartment building whose Sukkah was not roofed with a new easy-to-use super-light bamboo rug.

Two days before Yom Tov, I received a phone call from the Chabad Chernobyl program. They had airlifted children out of the area affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and brought them to Israel for medical treatment — as well as their first taste of Yiddishkeit — and wanted us to host two nine-year old girls for the entire eight days of the holiday. Of course we agreed. It would be a privilege to introduce these youngsters to their heritage.

Olya and Katya had never seen a Sukkah before; as a matter of fact, they had never even heard of Sukkot – or Shabbat, for that matter – before coming to Israel. Their eyes widened in amazement and delight when, through a combination of sign language and a few Hebrew words we explained that we actually eat and sleep in the Sukkah for the entire week!

That evening, at the meal, the girls were delighted by the neighbors singing together in stereophonic harmony, and giggled over our vain attempts to speak a few words of Russian.

Half-way through the soup, the weather suddenly changed. It wasn’t long before we could feel the first drops of rain penetrating the palm branches above our heads. Then, without any warning, the weather literally became vicious. The storm wind howled on all sides of us. We raced to the window and stared outside in amazement. Just a few minutes before everything had been calm and serene. Now, the trees were bending and… yes, that’s when we saw the first roof flying through the air, accompanied to a rousing rendition of “Harachaman hu yakim lanu Sukkot Dovid Hanofelet,” “May the All-merciful One rebuild the fallen Sukkah of Dovid” from the neighbor’s now roofless Sukkah.

Within less than an hour the street was full of soggy bamboo rugs. Ruined decorations were strewn everywhere. Ours was one of the few Sukkahs to survive the storm – and I was very grateful to my husband for being so obstinate and old fashioned.

We tried to explain to our guests that this was not part of the usual Sukkot celebration, but they seemed to think that flying schach and roofless Sukkot were the norm, and they loved every moment of it!

When it was time for Olya and Katya to return to their dormitory at the end of the week, we felt as if they were part of our family, and I believe the feeling was mutual. With their limited vocabulary, they let us know that Sukkot with the Shapiros was an experience they would never forget, and thanked us profusely. I told them that if they really want to show their appreciation, they could do me one favor that would mean a lot to me, and to the entire Jewish people.

Olya and Katya’s interest was piqued. “What’s that?” they asked.

“Promise me that when you grow up, you’ll make sure to marry a Jewish boy,” I answered.

They could not promise.

I can only pray that the All-Merciful One rebuild His fallen Sukkah, quickly and in our days. Amen

Debbie Shapiro is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem with her family. She is author of Bridging the Golden Gate, and is presently writing the biography of the late Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.