My Sukkah Decorations
As I aided my grandson and two of his friends in helping erect and decorate
our succah I was struck by the fact that not only had I aged and no longer
enjoyed climbing ladders but that many of our succah decorations had also
seriously aged, faded and some have even disappeared from the scene entirely.
I was delighted however that many of the succah decorations that have hung
in my succah for more than fifty years in Chicago, Miami Beach, Monsey and
Jerusalem were, like me, around and still in serviceable condition.
Naturally, each of those decorations brings back a flood of memories – of
cold and snowy Succot holidays in Chicago and Monsey, of boiling hot and
drippingly humid Succot in Miami Beach and of the joy of being able to sleep
comfortably in my succah here in Jerusalem.
And as the years have gone by, there are the beloved ones who visit my
current succah only in the form of spiritual ushpizzin, but whose presence
are nevertheless very real to me. We have decorations from the whole world
hanging in our succah and therefore every little bauble carries with it a
memory of a place visited and an experience tucked away in the recesses of
Thus, putting my succah together is always an emotional experience for me, a
time of memories and recollection. My grandchildren who have helped me to
decorate the succah have done so fairly dispassionately since they enjoy the
curios from far distant lands and places but they have no personal
attachments to the objects and they do not awaken any memories for them.
But, that is not the case for their old grandfather, for whom the succah
decorations are, in a large measure, the story of his life.
The custom of decorating one’s succah is an ancient but sporadic one.
Usually agricultural decorations – dried corn and grains, honey in jars,
dried fruits, etc. - were used when they were available. This was in keeping
with the biblical theme of Succot as the harvest festival of the Jewish
In many climes there was no possibility of such decorations. In my youth I
remember that in my father’s synagogue’s succah and in the yeshiva’s succah
there were little or no decorations. And, they didn’t have much color or any
pizzazz attached to them. Over the past number of decades, as having a
succah for one’s self and family has become increasingly popular in the
United States and here in Israel, the succah decoration industry has flourished.
Many succot now come with their own built in decorations on their panels and
the Chinese are hard at work thinking up new types of decorations for our
succot from year to year. Many tinsel decorations originally manufactured
for non-Jewish holidays find their ways into succot, especially here in
Israel where certain sections of the population are completely unaware of
the original reason and purpose of their manufacture. It is an interesting
and sometimes even amusing world that we live in.
I find that the unseen guests – the ushpizin – are in many ways the stars of
the Succot holiday. They have come to visit Jews in every clime and location
on the globe. The Talmud itself has many illustrations of possible succot
that were constructed in its time and in later times as well. There is a
park in Israel called Neot Kedumim where all of these different types of
succot are on view.
Though there are many variations possible, a succah basically is composed of
a structure with a little more than two plus solid walls and a roof of
natural agricultural materials that is partially open to the sky. In rainy
climates there was always an attempt to protect the succah during the rain
storm by ingenious methods.
The rain always plays havoc with the succah decorations and many of my mine
have fallen victim to the rains in America. Even here in Israel, ten years
ago we experienced a violent rain storm on Succot that pretty much soaked
everything and everyone. The heavy rains have not as of yet arrived here in
Israel this year but the early fall rains have happened and since Succot is
“late” this year, there does exist a possibility of rain for the holiday.
Nevertheless, my succah decorations are proudly established in the succah
and the holiness and anticipation of this holiday of family joy is felt
anywhere you go in Jerusalem. May God’s succah of happiness and peace
envelop and protect all of us all year long.
Rabbi Berel Wein