Celebrating Sukkot without a Sukkah

How to creatively approach the fall harvest holiday.

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The central mitzvah of Sukkot is found in Leviticus 23:42, where Jews are commanded to dwell in a sukkah, a temporary hut, for seven days and nights. We do this in order to remember the experiences of our ancestors, both on the journey from Egypt to the land of Israel and in a later era, when farmers brought offerings to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the harvest. 

But many people live in climates, neighborhoods, or buildings that preclude constructing and living in a sukkah. A local synagogue, Hillel, or even kosher restaurant will likely have one that you can use to fulfill the mitzvah of sitting in a sukkah. Yet everyone, with or without a personal sukkah, can turn to creative interpretations of "dwelling" and focus on the aspects of Sukkot that are oriented toward other rituals and customs to enrich the holiday experience.

At Home in a Hut 

In the Torah, the children of Israel used sukkot (plural of sukkah) as their temporary homes while traveling through the desert. Instead of constructing your own temporary space--or in addition to it--you can help someone else acquire a permanent home. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that runs building projects in many urban areas. Other service programs in your community may help individuals transition from homeless shelters into homes by collecting house wares and other necessary items. The acknowledgement that there are those in our communities who have no shelter at all can bring a meaningful awareness to your celebration.

A Temporary Dwelling 

pillow fort

Source: libbyrosof

A sukkah is a transitional shelter meant to provide only the basic structure of a building. In fact, Jewish law requires a minimum of two and half walls, and the ceiling, covered in tree branches and leaves, must be open enough so that the stars are visible. One alternative is to build a sukkah-like structure indoors. For children, the act of building forts and tents is the creation of a personal play space. Adults can build a canopy over the dining room table using a tablecloth, or even over the bed--perhaps to look like a huppah--to enjoy the temporary shelter and reminder of transition that it evokes.

Harvest Holiday

In the Bible, Sukkot marked the time of the fruit and grape harvests. It is also harvest time in North America, and the produce of the season is readily available. You can visit a farmer's market or even a farm to buy or help harvest seasonal fruits and vegetables. Go apple picking or just visit the park to collect fallen leaves and twigs to use as decorations. Create centerpieces for the home with fruits and vegetables, and plan meals that incorporate a wide selection of local produce. Look for the variety of produce imported from Israel during this time of year, as well.

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Sara Shapiro-Plevan

Sara Shapiro-Plevan serves as the Coordinator of Congregational Education for New York City for the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.