Let’s step outside for eight days or so. Okay, that’s an idea. Starting next week on Wednesday evening, we are going to take it outside as we transplant ourselves from dwelling in our homes to spending quality time in our backyards, on our porches, and in our driveways. It’s easy to love the idea, concept, and observance of Sukkos, especially when the chag falls in early to mid September and vestiges of summer are still with us.
Not only–as the old joke goes–are the Jewish holidays either too early or too late and never on time, but it is usually either way too warm or way too cool as the yom tov of Sukkos approaches. Of course, the weather can change, even extremely, in various directions at any time. Right now, looking at the 30-day forecast, it looks like the temperatures throughout the coming mostly outdoor festival will be in the mid-70s during the day in the New York area and in the mid-60s during the evening. It doesn’t get better than that, not here anyway.
In Israel it is an entirely different story. There, it is always very warm at this time of year, even warranting that many sukkahs, especially at some of the leading hotels, feature an air-conditioning system. I suppose that is also true in places like Florida and California, where it is just about always summertime.
Just look at how Sukkos has evolved over the years. I’m sure you have noticed how we as a community have graduated from simple patchwork huts thrown together in ragtag fashion to made-to-order, easy-to-almost-instantly-assemble, little- and not-so-little mobile-type homes that decorate the perimeters of our properties in a home-away-from-home way.
As kids in yeshiva, we were always instructed that the optimal way to proceed from the solemnity of Yom Kippur to the eventual giddiness and mirth of Sukkos was to immediately jump at the opportunity to build the sukkah after breaking the long, arduous fast of Yom Kippur.
I have to admit that as far back as I can recall, I have not yet been able to do that. Sure, I have thought about building my sukkah as soon as Yom Kippur was over, but I just could not get it done. And the reasons for that are varied. First and foremost, it is dark at night after the Yom Kippur fast. It is always challenging enough to oversee this hallowed construction project during the day; I just could never see myself swinging into that kind of action at night.
I can remember lying in bed at night after Yom Kippur as a child back at my parents’ home in Brooklyn and hearing the schlepping, hocking, and klopping taking place outside our home, but it was not an activity that we subscribed to ourselves. We were daytime sukkah people.
And don’t think that it wasn’t challenging enough during the day. Some people just have a knack for knocking together sukkahs as if they were opening a can of soda or ripping into a bag of potato chips. Not for me or my siblings. For us it was always painstaking construction.
But that’s all changed. For example, right now as I sit here writing these words, there is a group of men outside in front of my home assembling my sukkah. I’m sure that I have played a part in the construction by virtue of having hired them to do the job, right? I guess I did feel a little guilty rolling into the driveway about a half hour ago and catching a glimpse of these few Jewish and non-Jewish young men assembling the walls, attaching the lights, and rolling out the s’chach like they’ve been doing it for years. And maybe that’s because they have been doing this work for years.
So the sukkah is out there and now for the next two weeks the cars will be parked on the street here in Lawrence instead of in our driveway. The law in this town is that you are not allowed to park on the streets between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. seven days a week, and that policy is unfortunately somewhat unintentionally defied during this yom tov in particular.
Last year, even though our cars were also out there for most of two weeks, I don’t believe that we received any parking tickets, though we obviously should have. In prior years, I received a battery of tickets on some nights that the cars were left on the street. I haven’t checked it out, but I believe that village officials have prevailed on the police department to provide an accommodation to residents so that we can observe our holiday without incurring costs of parking fines.
A few years ago, when I did get a few tickets, I went to a hearing to be heard by a village justice. I pleaded guilty with an explanation, telling the judge that it was Sukkos and that our sukkah was in our driveway, that we had guests, and that it was just physically impossible to park the cars in the driveway. Actually, when I went to set up the date for this particular hearing, I asked the court clerk whether there were any exemptions or courtesies being extended to residents because of the chag. The clerk said at the time that there were no such exceptions being made. I asked what I was supposed to do, explaining the realities of sukkah observance, and she suggested that I should have asked neighbors if I could use their driveways.
“What?” I thought at the time. My neighbors had either their own cars or their sukkahs in their driveways, so what kind of suggestion is that? Let me state here clearly that I like the “No Parking 3:00 to 5:00 a.m. in Lawrence” law. It is important for security reasons and it keeps the community safe. But there are exemptions to almost all rules, and the Sukkos conundrum is one of these occasions. If there is a sukkah in a driveway, obviously the cars cannot be there in that same place.
So at this hearing a few years ago the judge pulls out a calendar and shows me that one of the parking tickets was issued two days after yom tov. Well, I of course had an additional explanation and that was that the people that take my sukkah down didn’t show up to do it until a few days after the holiday. I had about $150 worth of parking tickets and the judge wanted to dismiss them but felt that I had to be at least minimally punished, so he fined me $50.
I told him that I thought that was both unjust and unfair, considering the facts as they were presented. No, he said, I was in violation of the parking regulations, and though the court was extending a courtesy to me because of my holiday, I still deserved to be fined. I tried to throw myself at the mercy of the court but it was to no avail. I paid the $50.
It was worth it, of course, because I love Sukkos and the symbolism that accompanies this idea of taking the focus of your life and most of your festive meals out of your dining room and kitchen, relocating your cars and setting up house in the middle of your backyard or driveway. And then there is the tenuousness, flimsiness, and fragility of those walls that stand firm but still shake like there is a quake when there is a wind of even minimal velocity blowing.
I don’t know what the weather is really going to be like this year, but I recall a year in Brooklyn when the roof–the s’chach–of the sukkah blew away and in the morning I found our canvas sukkah lying on its side in a neighbor’s backyard. I recall surveying the site and contemplating how delicate and even brittle everything about our lives really is. I’m not certain about it, but I believe that our sukkahs today are stronger and more substantially anchored and less likely to be carried away by the winds. Is the same true of ourselves? I would like to think so, but a quick glance around says that unfortunately that is not the case.
Postscript: The first night that our sukkah was in our driveway, Monday night, we had to park two cars in front of our home. They each received a parking ticket for being on the street between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. Today that’s $35 each summons. I thought that we were past that. Now I feel like my right to freely practice my religion is being violated. On top of all that, the summons is not even issued by the police. I woke up at 4:30 this morning because I heard that large noisy street sweeper stopped with its mechanical brooms and engines roaring. I looked outside and observed the street-sweeper driver write and issue the tickets and place them on our windshields. I was a little flabbergasted, having written most of this a few hours earlier. Here we go again. I will need to press for my religious rights. No justice, no peace.
Additional postscript: That was quick. The Village of Lawrence is providing letters for residents to place on their dashboards overnight if they must park on the street to accommodate their observance of Sukkos.
G’mar chasimah tovah. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at email@example.com.