Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The snow collapsed my old sukkah frame

The snow is coming down again -- the brunt of the storm is way south of us, but so far another inch or so has piled onto what we already have.  The frame of my sukkah (booth for the Festival of Sukkot) finally collapsed under the weight of the snow.  Oh well, it's supposed to be a temporary shelter anyway, so I'll just have to build a new one next year.  (Story continues below photo).

For those of my readers who are not familiar with the Festival of Sukkot, you might know it as the "Feast of Tabernacles"  in the Bible, although the English word "tabernacle" calls to mind a fancy church building, whereas, a sukkah is a primitive booth that we Jews erect in the fall for a harvest festival.  In fact, there are two completely different Hebrew words often translated "tabernacle":  mishkan, which refers to the portable sanctuary that the Jews had while traveling with Moses in the wilderness, and sukkah, the harvest booth we are tallking about here.  As you can see, a sukkah is a far cry from the Mormon Tabernacle!

My urban Jewish brethren usually make their sukkahs out of plywood or other commercially-made materials.  Many buy rather expensive prefab versions, then store them away in the garage after the holiday.  I could never afford to do that.  When I lived in the city, I used to make mine out of whatever materials I could scrounge, because it doesn't really matter what the sides are made of.  One of my more memorable sukkahs was made of old refrigerator packing crates that I found behind the appliance store.  Reduce, reuse, recycle!  Nowadays, living here in the country, I prefer to use my campcraft skills and lash the framework together from saplings that I cut myself in the woods, then cover the sides with old sheets or blankets.  I think this is much closer to what our ancestors probably used.  And it's also a whole lot more economical.  

Lashing the framework makes it a somewhat permanent structure that I don't take down after the holiday.  I used to remove the cloth sides and the pine branches on top, but then I noticed that my cats were sheltering in it while they waited to come in the house on windy winter days, the squirrels sometimes climbed on it, and birds were often hopping around on the top.  I enjoyed watching this animal activity, so for the past few years I have left it up all winter, then removed the coverings in spring and made any necessary repairs to the framework.

There will probably be Haredi Jews who read this blog and be horrified that I let animals come in the sukkah, because it is supposed to be holy -- but really, it is only a "sukkah" during the festival itself.  And what makes it a sukkah is the natural plant materials (called schkach) on top, which I replace fresh every year right before the festival.  I see no problem with it being a multi-purpose structure other times of the year.   In summer, I have sometimes hung flower planters from it. (No bird feeders, though, since we have roaming barn cats.  Most of what my cats catch are rodents from around the chicken coop, which is very helpful, but there is no point in setting up bird bait for them.)

The Torah tells us that Jacob "journeyed to Sukkot and built himself a house, and for his livestock he made shelters; he therefore named the place Sukkot (Booths)."  (Genesis 33:17).  This is the first mention in the Bible of anybody making shelters for their animals (aside from Noah's Ark, of course!) -- and those shelters were probably something like my primitive sukkah.  Which is why he named the place Sukkot.  So I feel that by letting the animals use it after I'm done with it, I am much closer to how our ancestors lived.

At any rate, come spring, I will have to completely re-do my sukkah frame, after using the old wood to boil down my annual batch of maple syrup.  I need to remove some green ash saplings that are taking over the meadow area where the milkweed grows for the monarch butterflies, so this will be a good time to do it.  I look forward to that, because it will mean some very pleasant days outdoors, cutting the poles and listening to the various sounds of the forest.  There will be grouse drumming, pheasants and other birds calling, geese flying overhead, and woodpeckers chipping holes in the dead trees that I purposely leave up for them.  But right now, we have the silence of winter -- and that's beautiful, too. 


Anonymous said...

As I read your post, I was wondering which poor little saplings get cut down! I'm glad to hear that you're cutting down ones that need to be removed anyway.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Well yes, I don't like to kill anything unnecessarily. But these things grow like weeds from seeds that blow in from the nearby woods. Periodically I have to clear them out or they will shade the milkweed and goldenrod meadow area that I maintain for the butterflies. (The last one I cut became the rod for my closet. Much stronger than the old pine rod that broke -- green ash is really strong!) I also sometimes use stuff that grows in the ditch along the road, which gets whacked by the county or the electric company anyway.