Sukkot Without a Sukkah

It used to be easier.

When the kids were younger, I’d pull two short Ikea bookcases together, set them against the couch, cover them with a sheet, leave some little lit up lamps inside, throw pillows, favourite books, and there you have it, Happy Sukkot!

As they get older, and we still have no sukkah, I am beginning to think my kids will remember sukkot as a despairingly boring period of confinement to the house where they couldn’t “do muktzeh.”

This festival of huts. I understand their sense of almost meaninglessness, when our backyard or front yard, or two foot balcony is missing the sukkah we are meant to be celebrating.

Though so much of its significance is implied, is spiritual, is ethereal, is a phantom memory of a 40 year sojourn in a middle eastern desert, and so much more; it’s really, really tough to access that otherworldly stuff without the tactile sensations and childish excitement that building a sukkah include.

Most of my children can’t remember that we had a sukkah, in the frigid northern backyards of Ontario. For them, what is sukkot?

I myself, can’t forget the sukkahs of my past. The musky, biting air, the smells of cedar and Moroccan cooking mixing and melting into my cold bones, the clear sounds of my father’s echoey kiddush, and the muffled sounds of neighbors calling out to us; the bees kicking us out on a sunny day, the icy, lashing rain on a grey one.

Here, by the Mediterranean, the stale air of Autumn is neither frigid nor fair and the smells of the sea do nothing for my aching homesickness.

Living at the foot of the Strait of Gibraltar, closer than ever to my African roots, I feel like I’ve wandered as far as I ever can in this endless Diaspora.

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Other families invite us to share in their festivities, under their bamboo mats, tapestries hung from rods, barely moving in a windless non-season, between summer and winter; and we sit shoulder to shoulder, thanking and smiling and passing the brisket .

I bring dessert and wine, and fuss over which sweets to add to the bag, for I have no table or walls to fuss over or adorn; no cedar to lean on in prayer, no sweet early morning muskoka wind between my nose and my cup of Nescafe.

On the last day, my husband will bring home the etrog and the lulav that he celebrated and held all these 7 days while my hands were empty of them.

I’ll find myself alone in the kitchen, and I’ll grab at them like lost family heirlooms. I’ll smell them so deeply, I’ll forget to breathe out.

I’ll hold them to me and hunch over them, willing them to have been mine all along the journey of this festival; so bereft of my wood, and my wildly diverse seasons, and the scent of this citrusy heaven.

I’ll pass them from one child to the next and notice their fleeting wonder; but also the disconnect.

I’ll put them on top of the bookcase and wait for them to wilt and dry and burn them with the chametz in the spring.

And I’ll hope that one day my children’s memories of Sukkot will be worlds away from black smouldering husks of a lulav, and a mother’s bitter non-acceptance.

Image by Toby Cohen