Jerusalem. Oct. 6, 1973. The Yom Kippur War had shattered the peace of the holy day. A time for fasting and worship had become one of angst and fear, and many were forced to leave the sanctity of the synagogue for the horror of the battlefield.
Our family of two adults and four young children were living on French Hill, on the slopes of Mt. Scopus near the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital. As New Jerseyans, we had known of war only from reading and watching TV, but never firsthand. Now we were sitting in the bomb shelter joining the argument about whether it was halachically acceptable to turn on the radio on a yom tov to find out why the sirens were blaring. When we eventually switched it on and heard military sounding music we knew with certainty that we were at war.
But the point of this tale is to tell you what happened the very next day, Oct. 7, the day after the Yom Kippur War broke out; this was memorable and truly unbelievable. With so many suddenly away from home on the front lines, with neighbors trying to wrap their heads around the news, the very next day, all the sukkot went up. Walking through the neighborhood one saw sukkot. And more sukkot. A sea of sukkot. I almost felt that God had built them Himself.
We now know that the war was eventually won, though with a crushing loss of life. We also know that Judaism triumphs over enemy attacks and that holidays stop for no one, not for invasions nor military call-ups.
Since then we have spent many Sukkot in Israel, but last year was the first time that we decided to build our own sukkah there. Actually, it was necessary. We were having a houseful of guests for the chag and they needed to eat in the sukkah, three meals a day.
Israel in October is the perfect time for the holiday. The smothering heat is gone and the rains are still a few weeks away. Cool breezes and refreshing air make eating in the sukkah a delight.
New Jersey, on the other hand, invariably seems to be inundated with rain this time of year. I joke that I’m doing a rain dance as we put the finishing touches on our sukkah in West Orange, as daily rain seems de rigueur. And, mind you, our little temporary home, our booth, has no real roof. Schach, the natural material that covers the sukkah, does not prevent raindrops from bouncing on your table, your food, your head. It can be miserable.
So we joyfully anticipated our family’s first sukkah in Herzliya.
First, lots of logistics. Where would we put it? We have a small terrace which is not nearly large enough nor is the location permissible according to Jewish law. No good. Instead, we zeroed in on the grassy knoll next to the parking lot. But would the neighbors, virtually all secular, be OK with that?
We put up a sign, asking if anyone wanted to join us in building and using a sukkah. No objections and one positive response, from Nino.
Nino is a Jew from Libya. He knows everyone in town. It’s a big town — a city really — and yet, everyone knows Nino. In Herzliya, he’s larger than life.
Nino wanted to help us build our hut. He knew where to get the supplies and he solved the major problem of a power source for our string of lights: His apartment was on a low floor so that the wires could run from his kitchen to the sukkah. We supplied the timer.
So Nino and our little crew put up the frame. The next day Nino pulled up with his truck, laden with schach — abundant, fresh-smelling leafy branches. He’s a giant of a man, and within seconds he had the schach resting comfortably and firmly on top of the sukkah. Way to go, Nino.
After we carried the tables and chairs inside we discussed the scheduling. Some evenings we would be hosting 20 people. How could we coordinate our meals so that Nino, his family, and friends could use and enjoy the sukkah without interference?
As it turned out, Nino had no intention of eating any meals in the sukkah. Not even sipping a glass of wine. For Nino, the act of building the sukkah was, in itself, the mitzvah.
And so it was.