written for the The PJ Library® September e-newsletter
There are some indisputable signs that Autumn is coming – the lettuce has bolted, the broccoli has gone to seed, the Perseid meteorites have showered down in the night sky, and the back to school sales have begun. Both teachers, my husband and I mourn the end of summer vacation’s long, lazy days more than many parents. Of course there’s some general enthusiasm about the start of another school year for each member of our family, but it’s always tempered by a hint of anxiety and a wistfulness for all of the summer plans we never quite got to. We are resigned to Fall’s arrival, we do not celebrate it.
Looking over the PJ Library books for September, I discovered another harbinger of autumn – books about Sukkot appearing at our doorstep before we’ve even had a chance to vacuum all of the sand out of the car. As I spread the titles out on my kitchen table, I learned that the youngest members of my family have a very different relationship to the Fall equinox, thanks to the holiday of Sukkot.
Looking at the pile of books, Ella and Zoe brimmed with enthusiasm. “Can we sleep in the sukkah this year?” asked Zoe as she glanced at the cover of Night Lights. “The whole night,” added Ella, who remembered last year’s thwarted attempt. “And can we have another sukkah party for my class?” she added, staring at the children sharing a snack on the cover of It’s Sukkah Time.
If I were to stage a family-wide election for favorite holiday, I am certain that Sukkot would come out on top. Of course my children love the costumes of Purim, I love the rituals of the Passover seder, and my husband waits all year to wolf down plates of latkes. But as family unit, Sukkot wins, because it’s the one holiday that every member of the family is actively involved in preparing for and celebrating. This is particularly important for us, because my husband is not Jewish; despite his desire to play an active role in our daughter’s Jewish upbringing, it’s often hard for him to figure out his role in our Jewish home. But at sukkot, Papa is front and central, organizing the annual construction of the sukkah in our backyard. The girls are in charge of interior design – we hand over acrylic paints (along with smocks and lots of newspaper) and set them to work on decorating the walls. I’m in charge of the schach, rustling up bundles of corn stalks and heaving them onto the roof, and of course, the meals (there seems to be no sharing of this responsibility in sight.)
The other reason we love Sukkot so much is that it’s the one time of year we can comfortably entertain. We live in a 1,100 square foot home with no dining room, and it’s a tight squeeze for us to host even one other family for a festive meal. On Sukkot, we take advantage of the open space (the sukkah is only required to have 3 walls, allowing for comfortable spillover of excess guests.) I’m fairly certain that we host more guests over the one week of sukkot than the rest of the year combined. It’s like turbo-hachnassat orchim, the mitzvah of home hospitality.
So let those school supply flyers flood our mailbox and corn and tomatoes harvests wane. Yes, we’ll shed a few tears as we haul the beach umbrella up to the attic for hibernation, but while we’re up there we’ll catch a glance of our beloved sukkah kit waiting to be unpacked, and the girls will begin counting the days until the next favorite-time-of-year rolls along. Thanks to a calendar rich with celebrations, when the sukkah comes down, there will be yet another festival on the not so distant horizon. And then another, and another. Before we know it, it will be time to make a new list of summer plans that we’ll never quite get to.
The PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age seven. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations. To learn more, go to www.pjlibrary.org