About 15 years ago, I took a class at my synagogue called Holiday Workshop Series, which presented detailed directions on how to celebrate every Jewish holiday in one’s home. The notebook included schematic drawings for building a sukkah of 2x4s and nails, etc., but I always knew it was my beyond my abilities.
The next year, right after Yom Kippur, I decided to quickly create my own sukkah. I scoured building supply stores for ideas. There were probably some sukkah kits available on the market at that time, but I presumed they would be too expensive and never looked at them. My husband is not very handy, and the kids were little, so I knew I was on my own. And with some luck, I created a sukkah design which required no tools.
I found a space on my back patio and figured I could fit an 8-x-8-foot sukkah there. I found an awning store that sold me 1”-diameter stainless-steel poles with connectors which required only thumbscrews, and they cut them to size. This involved four poles, creating a square around the top, and four poles for the uprights supporting the poles at the top. Resting on the ground, the poles are strong enough to support the weight of the branches on top.
Then I needed sides. Initially I used flowery sheets. I draped them over the top poles, to get them the right length to the ground, and used safety pins at the top so they would stay on securely. At a camping store, I bought a few yards of mosquito netting and used it for one side of the sukkah.
I used long lengths of cotton clothesline and venetian-blind cord across the top, tied diagonally and crosswise, to support the branches. And my gardener realized that this would be the right moment to trim one of his customer’s palm branches, and he delivered the branches to me. When I laid them on top, I tied more clothesline over them to secure them against wind.
Decorations started with New Year’s cards and paper things made by the kids. But they curled in the dampness. And lots of lemons, limes, and oranges. I used a curved upholstery needle and cotton crochet thread to tie a loop through the fruit and then hang them from the clothesline inside the sukkah. I got a few inexpensive clip-on lights and hung them in the sukkah, connected to extension cords.
That first year, we had company for dinner every night of Sukkot. A couple nights, we moved pool chaises into the sukkah, and the kids and I slept there. That was a wonderful Sukkot, and, every year since – even with the kids grown and gone – I continue to build the sukkah each year and eat all my meals in it.
I’ve made improvements over the years. I enlarged the sukkah to 8 x 12 by purchasing four 6-foot poles and 2-way connectors, along with additional support poles. Instead of clothesline to support the branches, I’ve purchased long bamboo poles (from a sukkah store), and I secure them with short lengths of clothesline. For two and one half of the sides, I have two long bamboo screens, to provide shade. The bamboo is held together with metal wire – now rusty – and I turn the screen sideways. One year I tied loops of venetian-blind cord to the metal wire at the end, and now I take more short lengths of cord to suspend the screens from the top crosspieces. A half side – which I use for the doorway – is mosquito netting safety-pinned over the top. And one long side is two special sukkah decorations which I purchased – one with the ushpizin and one with ushpizot. Once all the sides are in place, I add more clothesline around the outside from pole to pole, near the bottom, to keep the sides in place and not blowing.
I’ve purchased outdoor extension cords and larger clip-on lights. I use yellow light bulbs to keep the bugs away. I have two strands of lights which have plastic fruits on them, and they decorate the ceiling. I gave up on real fruit decorations, since it didn’t seem right to waste food when other people were going hungry. So, I began collecting plastic fruit whenever it was on sale. Using a curved upholstery needle, I tie a loop through each fruit, which stays on from year to year. And I use pipe cleaners to hang each fruit from its loop to the branches or poles above.
The sukkah is wonderful every year. Perhaps it is southern California’s wonderful weather, which is always warm and sunny during Sukkot. But the important part for me is that I can build it easily by myself and store it in the garage in a small space. It takes me about two hours to remove it from the garage to having it fully built and wired, another half hour to get the branches on, about two hours to hang all the plastic fruit, and many more hours cooking and entertaining guests. Sukkot is my favorite holiday, and I look forward to it every year.