Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Sukka on the Roof

I dare say we must have the easiest sukka in the world to build. It’s not that we’re lazy. It’s just that our apartment is on the top floor and has a large terrace covered with a pergola.

So when the Jewish holiday of Sukkot rolls around with its commandment that we "dwell in booths" to recall how the Israelites lived out-of-doors during their 40 years of wandering, all we have to do to build the sukka is cover the top of the pergola with schach.

No, that wasn't me clearing my throat. Schach is the leafy covering often made of palm fronds that forms the roof of a traditional sukka.

Because we’re up so high, we use a version of permanent schach that "rolls out." It’s still made of palm fronds, but they’re sort of reprocessed and compressed into nice long strips.

Think of it as the sukka equivalent of a fruit roll vs. the real thing. But at least it doesn’t blow off during the inevitable winds of October in Jerusalem.

Building our stripped down sukka takes no more than about 15 minutes to complete. Which might seem slight but I’d rather have the time for thinking than tinkering.

For example, remember the story of the Sukka on the Roof? It’s one of the few tall tales I remember from my abbreviated Jewish education growing up.

There once was a man who built a sukka on the roof of his apartment building. A particularly cantankerous neighbor caught wind of what was going on and decided he didn't like it one bit.

He demanded that the man take the sukka down immediately. When he was refused, the neighbor took him to court, requesting a quick verdict. The court deliberated and decided that yes indeed, the sukka would have to come down.

The court then dutifully informed the man that he had exactly eight days to do it. And the man just smiled, as he knew, as you have probably realized as well, that the holiday of Sukkot lasts exactly…eight days.

Now, one of the perils of a rooftop sukka, we have discovered, is falling planters. Well, at least that's how it was on the first day of Sukkot last year.

We have some plastic planters full of flowers and dirt and rocks on the half-wall the surrounds much of our terrace. We also have a hammock which the kids like to use as a swing.

It's an unusual hammock, described alternatively as a "hanging air chair." It fits a single person sitting up. That in contrast to the more common lying-down-and-fall-asleep-in-the-sun variety.

One of the kids (who shall remain nameless) was swinging a bit too vigorously and knocked one of the planters off the wall and down onto into our neighbor’s first floor backyard. A mess for sure, but not the end of the world we figured.

Except that standing proudly in that first floor backyard was the neighbor's sukka. The planter crashed through the top, leaving a gaping hole in the schach and raining down debris on their table, on the bed, on the dinner leftovers from the night before.

My first thought was that their sukka would be rendered psul – that is, no longer usable – for Sukkot, a terrible thing to be responsible for given that we knew they had about twenty guests coming over for lunch. And that was in only a few hours.

We quickly headed downstairs to do damage control. Everyone except for Mrs. Sachs, the matron of the house, was already at shul. Mrs. Sachs wasn't sure the halachic (Jewish Law) status of a sukka ravaged by a freak rain of falling daisies.

The problem was that on the holidays, you're not really supposed to "fix" things. So she decided to wait until her children came home before taking any action. We swept up the mess as best we could and went off to synagogue ourselves.

As the day went on, we found numerous occasions to peek over to spy out what was going on downstairs. At one point, I saw Mrs. Sachs taking out a tray with kiddush cups...did that mean they had just eaten in the sukka? So it must be OK.

Or…were they just cleaning out more of the mess from the previous night?

A little later, we noticed they were moving out the chairs....that must mean the sukka was ruined after all!

No wait, the men were removing their shoes...was this some new water ritual we missed while playing hooky from Hebrew School? Or could it be…

Yes, someone was bringing in a mattress…and then another. Ah ha, if they're sleeping in it - common custom observed by many during the holiday - the sukka must be OK. Right?

By the end of the day, it appeared that we were not the cause celebre of some local halachic catastrophe. The only thing hurt was one child’s pride – and piggy bank – which was requisitioned to help pay for a new planter and a fresh bag of fresh dirt.

And oh yes, beginning that Sukkot, our unique, one-person, swinging hammock became completely off limits to anyone under the age of 40.

Want to know what adventures we had this year with our Sukka on the Roof? I've got a special "bonus story" called "Amir Against the Wind." I think you'll like it. Just click here to read it.

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