If you live in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant or Williamsburg and you are not Jewish, probably you have wondered about the wooden, shack-like structures that are erected around the same time every year on the patios of several apartment dwellings.
What are they?
The huts are a large part of the celebration of Sukkot, the Hebrew word for “Feast of Booths,” one of the three Jewish pilgrimage and harvest holidays of celebration and thanksgiving.
Sukkot 2022 began on the evening of Sunday, October 9, and ends on the evening of Sunday, October 16. Every year, Sukkot falls on a full moon.
Sukkot is celebrated, first of all, by building a sukkah. As a temporary dwelling, the sukkah also represents the fact that all existence is fragile, and therefore Sukkot is a time to appreciate the shelter and the protection of the home and the body.
Sukkot also is the plural Hebrew word for sukkah, which is the hut-like structure that the Jewish people lived in during the 40 years of travel through the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt.
Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, a member of the Chabad community of Crown Heights, said a medium-sized sukkah takes about 4-5 hours to build, but that sometimes the parts are pre-fabricated for easy assembly.
“When I did a safari in Kenya, I took one of these things called a ‘pop-up sukkah’ that you can use for travel; it’s like blowing up a balloon, and it’s ready. And then you have some of the older people who build it from scratch,” Behrman said.
“Also, young community members offer their services to come build your sukkah for a fee.”
Many American Jews eat all of their meals in the sukkah for seven days and some even sleep in the sukkah, when the weather is nice, for the duration of the holiday as a fun tradition. The sukkah is typically decorated with kids’ art, colorful construction-paper garlands, flowers and candles.
For observant Jews in New York, the first day of the week-long holiday is considered a holy day in which most forms of work and the use of electricity is forbidden.
Also, the tops of the Sukkot cannot be covered by plastic or any synthetic materials while they are in use.
“We do ‘schach,’ which is covering it with bamboo or palm trees,” Behrman said. “But it has to be a natural material.”
“One of the requirements of the sukkot is that you should see the sky. So, there cannot be a covering, because you have to be able to look at the stars. Chabad is very strict to Sukkot, so even when it’s pouring rain, we sit in the sukkot and you get caught in the rain.”
“But when the weather is nice and the company is good, it’s actually fun to be outdoors,” he said. “You have candles, it’s romantic. Some really put in very nice decorations.”
Also, on Sukkot, some Jews carry an etrog, which is a citrus fruit similar to a lemon, and a bundle of palm frond, willow and myrtle branches, called a lulav, that are held together and ceremonially shaken in six directions during the holiday.
To wish someone a Happy Sukkot, say ‘Hag Sameach!’ which is Hebrew for ‘happy holidays.’