Thinking Out Of The Hut

September 18, 2013

4 min read

I dare say we must have the easiest sukka
in the world to build. A sukka
is an outdoor dwelling that Jews traditionally
build during the holiday ofSukkot to commemorate our ancestors’ exodus
from Egypt
 when they had to live in this type of desert hut.

Now, our apartment is on the top floor and has a
large terrace covered with a pergola. So all we have to do to build the sukka is cover the top of the pergola with schach – the leafy covering that is usually made of palm fronds (we use the permanent stuff that “rolls out” – think of it as the sukka equivalent of a fruit leather vs. the real thing).

The whole process takes no more than 15 minutes to complete. With a
couple of intrepid children who don’t mind climbing to jaw-dropping
heights (warning kids: don’t try this in your home), it’s a snap to construct a temporary tabernacle sweet enough to shake a lulav at.

Getting the schach to stay up there, however, takes a bit of engineering skill.

The schach we use has these thin threads that attach the bamboo strips
together. The kids insert string inbetween the threads and around
the wooden slats of the pergola beneath. I then tie it all up from the
other side, while standing on a chair. It’s always been a piece of

Until two years ago.

What is it about the holiday season in Israel that makes the
weather so consistently cruel.? Take Yom Kippur for example. No matter
if the days leading up to the Day of Atonement are as lovely as a Jerusalem summer night, the day of the fast
itself will always be a scorcher.

Same with Sukkot. Because of the intricacies of synchronizing the
Jewish and non-Jewish calendars
, the holiday where we’re commanded to
dwell outdoors among the elements could fall anywhere from the
beginning of September to the end of October. In either, case, less
than 24 hours before the start of holiday, strong winds and rain always
descend on us in on

As the schach began billowing last night – right on queue – I was reminded of a story from Sukkot two years ago…


It’s a half an-hour before the holiday begins, and twelve-year-old Amir comes bounding downstairs in a panic.

“There’s…a…big wind…It’s blowing…all the…schach…off!” he pants in
time to the gusts which have kicked up at this, the
eleventh hour before we can no longer make changes to the sukka
according to Jewish Law.

All right, I think to myself. No cause for concern. Maybe a couple of
the strings have come loose. It’s never happened before, but we can
handle it.

This is a big wind though. And Amir is right. Both rolls of bamboo are
billowing in the air, held on by just a couple of the strings we so
meticulously tied.

Amir flies back onto the roof, employing some super hero powers
heretofore never witnessed in our house. He literally throws himself
onto the schach to keep it from flying off completely and hurtling

As he holds on to one end of the schach, I do my best to assess the situation and
offer solutions.

What I can see is that our string is still attached to the pergola
slats, but the threads in the schach itself have torn clear through.

“Maybe we tied it in the wrong spot,” I suggest. “Why don’t we wrap the
string lengthwise around the bamboo strips and not just in the
connectors. What do you think?”

Amir says nothing. He is laying spread eagle three stories up on top of a rickety wooden structure in the
midst of a Jerusaelem version of a hurricane. His face sports the forlorn look of a child
watching all his hard work blown away in a single act of a God with a wicked sense of timing.

We have no choice but to get to work. While keeping his torso splayed
across one side of the schach, he begins threading the string in the
new manner we’ve worked out. But he’s only one person…

Another huge gust slams into him, causing the schach to rise like a
living creature. It turns, then twists back on itself before crashing
down again. For this moment in time, Amir has taken on the role of
Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as he faces down a formerly
inanimate object with a newly independent mind of its own.

Amir ties one corner and starts a careful crawl across the schach. As
he does so, though, he scrapes his knee. He lets out a yowl.

“I can’t do this,” he whimpers. “I have to rest.”

“We can’t stop now, Amir,” I respond. “What if another big wind comes and blows even harder? This is war!”

“But Abba, I can’t.”

“Imagine you’re in the middle of a battlefield, Amir. If you were to
take a break at the height of the fighting, the enemy tanks would run
you over. You’ve got to buckle up, forget about your pain and finish
the job. We have no choice!

Now, I’ve never actually been in the army, but I can imagine this must be how a
sergeant barks orders in a life or death situation. And right now I am
Amir’s commanding officer.

Amir gets the message. Leaping from corner to corner while grimmacing
in pain, he threads the strings like the trooper I know he can be,
covering every base until any possibility of rogue schach has been

The job is complete. As we survey the final results, a siren starts to
wail. Not an air-raid siren (although that would be appropriate) but
the shrill call that blares from loudspeakers all across Jerusalem
announcing that start of the holiday of

The Battle for the Blum’s Sukka has been won.


The schach held that
year. But the following Sukkot it broke through again and the dramatic
events I just described were more or less repeated (though this time we were
prepared for the inevitable and as a result a bit less panicked).

This season, though, a conversation with a Rabbi friend led to a startling revelation: we didn’t actually need to put schach on top at all!

According to halacha (Jewish law), the Rabbi told us, our pergola was already a propersukka.
We just needed to make a “symbolic” act of “building” the roof anew. Schach was fine, but tying down a single wooden board with heavy duty rope would do the job just as well.

Our schach-less sukka looks a little bare
this year. But I think we paid our dues. Sometimes
you win a war through brute strength.

Other times, you just have to
think a little out of the hut.

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