Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is an eight-day holiday that marks the end of harvest time in the Land of Israel. Celebrated five days after Yom Kippur beginning on the 15th of Tishrei (Oct. 5 this year), Sukkot is filled with family-centric traditions including feasts and one special DIY project.
During Sukkot, Jews are commanded to dwell as our ancestors did — in sukkahs, the temporary frail huts in which the Israelites lived during their 40 years of wandering the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.
How do you build one? The staff at Rosie on the House always advise using licensed, bonded and insured professionals to build any permanent dwelling. However, building a sukkah is a fun family affair. If you have a family member helping you construct it who is a contractor, well, that’s just glick (Yiddish for “good fortune”).
The sukkah is designed to provide shade. It must sit beneath the open sky, not under a patio or tree branches. It must be large enough to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. Per Chabad.org, “A sukkah must have at least two full walls plus part of a third wall (the “part” needs to be a minimum of 3.2 inches wide). It is preferable, however, that the sukkah have four complete walls. The walls must be at least 32 inches high, and the entire structure may not be taller than 30 feet. In length and breadth, a sukkah cannot be smaller than 22.4 inches by 22.4 inches. There is no size limit in length and width a sukkah may be.”
Of the three walls, one can be existing, like the side of a house. They can be constructed of any material (wood, canvas, aluminum siding, sheets, etc.). As any reputable contractor will tell you, the roof must be put on last. It must be constructed of schach, organic, unprocessed material that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, palm fronds, corn stalks, sticks, or even two-by-fours. Schach is to be left loose, not tied together or tied down. Place it sparsely enough that rain can’t get in, yet the stars can be seen. It should be no more than 10 inches open at any point or so that there is more light than shade. For lighting, build your sukkah near a covered outlet, use a lightbulb with a rain protection cover and electrical cord. Make room for a table and chairs. You can enjoy your meals there for the duration of the festival.
Keep safety a priority. Wear protective eyewear to prevent particles from dried leaves, palm fronds and other materials from getting in your crew’s eyes. Always instruct and supervise children who are participating in the construction.
Upon completion of the structure, decorate it by hanging seasonal items such as dried fruit, squash, and corn from the schach.
Live in the sukkah as much as possible. “Dwelling” can be fulfilled by eating your meals there. Speaking of food, stuffed foods such as peppers, eggplants, fruits and pastries, knishes, and kreplach, are common. Some speculate that stuffed foods represent a bountiful harvest.
After the holiday, consider composting your sukkah, fulfilling the mitzvah of bal tashchit (do not destroy or waste).
Susan Stein Kregar is Tucson partner development manager for Arizona’s home improvement radio program “Rosie on the House.” For more information, visit rosieonthehouse.com or contact Kregar at firstname.lastname@example.org.