Letters to God from a little boy
A Hallel for Sukkot

A sukkah of sticks and string


Mirpesset (balcony) sukkah, 5777.

One of the things I knew I would miss about my old house was the sukkah I used to have there. My ex-husband built me a beautiful sukkah -- actually he built several of them, over the years, and he deserves kavod (honor) for that. But at the condo where I now live, we're not allowed to put up structures on the lawns. My son can play soccer with a portable goal, but when he's done we need to bring the goal back to our garage. No swingset, no permanent play structures... and no sukkah, either.

When I moved, I resigned myself to using the synagogue sukkah all week. My shul builds a beautiful sukkah each year, and I live nearby now. It is an entirely reasonable solution. Still, as Sukkot approached, I found myself deeply wistful for the experience of padding out to the sukkah in my pyjamas in the morning to bentsch lulav before breakfast, and the experience of tiptoeing out to the sukkah to gaze at the moon after my son is asleep. I'd gotten spoiled. I liked living with a sukkah in my own backyard.

Then it occurred to me that I could try to build something on my wee mirpesset, a.k.a. the small balcony outside my living room. People build sukkot on balconies in big cities, don't they? I spent a while searching to see what others had done. I looked into fancy tubular sukkah kits of the right dimensions to be built on a small balcony like mine. They tend to be quite pretty, but also quite expensive. I couldn't justify the expense -- not now. Maybe by next year, but it wouldn't be responsible to spend that now.

And then one day I was driving past a local hardware store when I saw tall thin garden stakes, and I remembered a long-ago building project that featured sticks and string. A sukkah made of garden stakes and string might not be stable enough to stand on its own, but because my mirpesset has a railing, I could rely on the existing structure to help hold my sukkah up. It would be a tiny sukkah, of course -- perhaps befitting the inhabitants of a small condo, a downsizing b'chol olamot / in all worlds.

A sukkah is always already a sketch of a house. It's a minimalist line drawing, not an oil painting; its components suggest "dwelling," but it isn't permanent and isn't stable -- indeed, it can't be. A sukkah needs to have a leafy roof through which the stars can be seen, and a certain flimsiness seems appropriate to this harvest festival of impermanence. A sukkah is like the autumn leaves: as soon as it's built in all its splendor it's vulnerable to coming apart at the seams. So, too, are we, of course. 

I don't know whether our mirpesset sukkah will last all week -- whether the roof will hold up the cornstalks, whether wind and rain will tear it apart, whether our decorations will blow away and dance across the lawn. But we have already rejoiced in our sweet, sparkly temporary little house. I feel incredibly blessed to have a place of our own where I can build even a tiny sukkah, and to have a kid who takes pleasure in tinsel and autumn leaves, and to have a holiday that drags me outdoors at this season.

Chag sameach -- a joyous festival to all.



Happy kid in the sukkah!