It’s Sukkot which in Israel means a number of things. Firstly it usually heralds the change in the weather. Hooray. The humidity goes down, the wind picks up, we even usually experience a few drops of rain (literally a few drops). Sukkot also means that people’s balconies and gardens and kosher eateries gain an odd looking, temporary structure; covered in palm fronds and decorated with what I would refer to as Christmas decorations. Of course they are only Christmas decorations if you come from a country that celebrates Christmas. Sukkot in our house also means lots of children, open front doors, neighbourly kid-swap and a general raise in noise levels.
Cue quick explanation (Jewish friends look away now). Sukkot is a Jewish festival that commemorates the Jews 40 years of travel in the desert after their exodus from slavery in Egypt. The structure or Sukkah is a reminder of the temporary dwellings they erected to live in during this time. The word sukkah means booth or tabernacle and the roof is made from schach (try to say that after a drink) which are palm fronds or evergreen leaves. During Sukkot people eat in the sukkah and some even sleep in the sukkah but as you know from previous postings about our garden, you would have to pay me A LOT of money to catch me lying out there in the dark. The holiday is a week-long starting and culminating with special meals with friends and family.
(For a more in-depth explanation of the customs and religious importance of Sukkot http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm)
In our building we have a lot of kids. Our 3 plus another 11. 8 of them are under 6 and by the way there are 5 sets of twins – yep, go figure – so you can imagine the excitement when the sukkah goes up in the gardens and behind the building in a communal area. Don’t think you can have an invite only dinner as you are to be assured at least 4 small people will appear at some stage, joined later by parents. I love it.
Husband built our sukkah and another one in no. 1 son’s kindergarten with a choice selection of bits of wood and old sheets. Precarious was not the word to describe them, until they were tied to every available solid structure. We are 4 days in and so far so good, as long as high winds stay away. I intend to be out when he takes it down.
The roof is a bit more tricky because come a week before sukkot the council starts pruning the palm trees (of which there are thousands) and people who look like they haven’t seen the light of day since last Sukkot come out of their houses to claim their share of branches. Traffic jams ensue as elderly women, dazed by the sunlight, bent double, wander blindly across the roads oblivious to traffic ‘must get palms, must get palms’, cars randomly stop in the middle of the street and open their car boots all whilst the men up the cranes chopping the palms yell for people to ‘GET OUT OF THE WAY’. I should mention that one palm frond is bloody heavy. Surprisingly so. A few years ago I stopped (in a layby) at the side of the road and claimed a couple of branches to bring home. Problem was they were too big to fit in the car and in the absence of a roof rack I clung to one at a time on the roof with one hand on the steering wheel. Not terribly safe and I almost broke my wrist but at least I bagged two beauties for free. Yes, there’s the rub, if you don’t have your own (plus a tree surgeon to cut them down for you) or you don’t manage to catch the annual council chopping then you have to buy them!!! At around 5 shekels a frond (£1 or $1.50) that makes for an expensive roof.
Since having the childers, Sukkot is by far my favourite holiday; a social butterfly such as myself who spends way too much time alone, really appreciates the many visitors, invitations and the comings and goings of the neighbours. I seem to spend way more time outdoors, protected from bugs by our sukkah (although a large cockroach did fly on to me the other night) and there is something so holiday-like eating outside and (almost) under canvas. Only a few more days to go until it’s over for another year and life goes back to normal after the holiday-fest which is August and September in Israel. Better get back to the garden and enjoy the rustle of the drying fronds overhead.