Sukkot, a celebration of the harvest and an agricultural holiday, intends to remind us of the living conditions of the Israelites during their 40 years spent wandering in the desert. In honor of the holiday, most Jewish people with ample yard space build outdoor sukkahs. For the modern family, sharing a delicious meal inside the sukkah is an opportunity to enjoy the nature together. But every year, I, like many others, stare at my 56-square-meter (600-square-foot) apartment and wonder, “How in the world can I possibly celebrate this holiday?”
For many of us apartment-dwellers, the idea of building a sukkah is, in fact, laughable. I could only imagine my apartment management company entering my complex to view a gigantic sukkah in the middle of my “backyard” parking lot.
Sukkot was always a bit of a mystery to me. I never really understood why an “etrog” was so special, or why everything I ate during the holiday seemed to be a fruit or a vegetable. Although my parents explained the meaning of the holiday, I only began appreciating it once I was unable to easily access a sukkah. So, when I started living in my small apartment, I had to get creative.
This year, I thought I’d share my experiences so that you, too, can enjoy Sukkot – even without your own sukkah.
1. Go sukkah-hunting. Practically every synagogue nowadays has a sukkah event for the community. My parents used to take us to the Chabad synagogue down the street or the reform synagogue nearby to “tour” sukkahs. Call your nearby community centers and synagogues, if available, and ask if they hold community sukkah nights. Then, make it an adventure! Travel to the different events and compare how sukkahs differ at each one.
2. Feeling creative, handy and ambitious? Buy or make a sukkah kit and go “guerilla.” The internet has loads of ideas on how to make cheap and easy sukkahs. Gather a group of friends and declare that every night, one friend will assemble the sukkah in a random location in the community. Then, everyone can come to that location with food. Not only will you explore your community, you’ll also get the benefit of eating al fresco!
3. Even if you live in an urban area, you might have farms within driving distance. Rent a car and go apple picking or pumpkin hunting. During this time of year, farms swell with pumpkin patches and apple orchards. Travel with friends or children and enjoy the true nature of a harvest. You’re not a farmer, but you can still pick fruits and vegetables and feel as though you’ve experienced the spirit of Sukkot.
4. Finally, one of my favorite activities: making “little sukkahs” for the knick-knacks in my home. Have salt and pepper shakers? Buy some Popsicle sticks, gather some leaves and glue, and make your salt and pepper shakers a “sukkah” in your home! This is a great activity for kids - see who can make the most creative or sturdy sukkah for their dolls or action figures. You can host “tea parties” as well as meals for toys, and your children can learn all about the holiday.
While many of us don’t have the luxury of dining in a sukkah every day until Simchat Torah, it’s still possible to enjoy Sukkot. It is a time to enjoy the harvest and remember Jewish wanderings in the Sinai for 40 years. While we don’t have to get lost in a desert or build a sukkah when it is impossible to do so, we can still enjoy fun, creativity, and energy during by getting creative.
Yael Miller is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.