Building A Sukkah Together ©

By Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

We were at the congregation where the story Yom Kippur: "A Disaster and A Delight" took place. This congregation has grown from zero to over four hundred families in less than five years. They just purchased a new building but they meet in a hotel during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The hotel accommodations are always excellent. Even though their new facility is very nice it cannot accommodate the overflow crowds of the High Holiday Season.

Anyone who does not have plans for this year's High Holiday Services should consider visiting. There are costs involved but the costs are reasonable. They will work with you. Plan now for your PRAYER VACATION to colorful Colorado where your prayers are a mile higher to begin with...

This year we enjoyed sharing Yom Kippur there with old friends at the above congregation. That is where this year's Sukkah story actually begins. After Kol Nidre Service was completed. I quietly remained behind waiting for the meeting area to empty out. As usual, a very holy feeling lingered, especially after three hours of powerful Tefillah. It was like bathing in the afterglow. The area was radiant with spiritual light.

Soon a couple of friends joined me, Alex and Al. We quietly sat down drawing our chairs together while drinking in the remaining atmosphere. Alex is known in our family for short precise phrases. His face was glowing in a full smile as he softly said, "So good! So good!"

I said, "Yes!" and Al nodded in affirmation.

Our conversations began with exchanges about our dearest loved ones. Over the years our families have grown close. We have shared many joyful occasions together. During our discussion Alex inquired about the Sukkah we built together a few years back. He asked me with such an incredible smile, "Do you remember?"

I responded, "Do you mean the old farm house, the barn, the late nights, the snow, the cold, mixing concrete?"

He warmly said, "Yes."

Then I again responded, "Yes, my friend! I remember..."

Alex said, "It was so wonderful!" He was right. It was indeed a very special experience. Without hesitation Alex suggested I share our special experience of building a sukkah together with the JewishPath readership.

It has been a Belk family custom to build a new Sukkah each year for many years now. I think this custom actually developed because we're a bunch of nomads. It seems like we never stay anywhere very long. In fact when we look for a new place to live one of our immediate concerns is, 'Where will we build the Sukkah for this year?' One year we had a Jewish realtor. He quickly pointed out how convenient it would be to remove the fiberglass from the enclosed patio and replace it with schach. That was simply too easy. It did not fit our style. We had to actually construct a Sukkah. The realtor looked at us strangely. I took a few minutes to explain what a sukkah was.

It was around Yom Kippur several years ago. I was wondering where the funds to construct the new Sukkah would come from. Money was very tight. Usually I have a dream in which I intuitively understand how to construct The Sukkah for that year. Some years the dream does not come but usually it does. That year my dream had to be particularly price conscious. Thank God! It was. In fact we estimated the cost of The Sukkah, based on the dream, would cost very little.

During those years Alex and I would learn together during the week and on Sabbath afternoon and sometimes during our walks to shul and home. Al and his family moved into the neighborhood around that time. We were just getting acquainted. Before long we were also sharing many walks back and forth to shul together. At the time our shul was about 1 1/2 miles each way.

It was that time of year on Sabath during kiddush that the subject of a sukkah would come up. Our shul had a bar mitzvah type kiddush almost every week. Everyone enjoyed kiddush. I always sat at a table in the corner. Each week friends would always join my table. It was wonderful.

Well, the subject of sukkah came up. Alex and his family were also experiencing budjet cramps. This was their first year in our community. They needed a Sukkah. I thought we had last year's Sukkah... Or better yet, we could build a Sukkah together. My friend, there is nothing like building a Sukkah with family or friends. The joy is overwhelming! It is so wonderful! Even when money is very close it is so wonderful! Shopping for The Sukkah parts, making plans... there is nothing like it in this world. The anticipation cannot be described!

I began sharing the joy of building a sukkah followed by a few stories like this one. It was fun! It was affordable! I suggested to Alex that we construct a Sukkah together. He loved the idea but he was very concerned about the cost. We couldn't discuss money or actual plans because it was Sabbaths but I told him not to worry. I said, "Trust me!" He did! His face carried the joyful expression...

After Sabbath we talked. I asked Alex, "If we can build The Sukkah for sixty dollars would that work for you?" He joyfully said, "YES!" We immediately began making plans to build the sukkah. That night, Motzi Sabbath, we went to the local hardware store to purchase the necessary supplies. All the required supplies were stored in my head. No one else had any idea of what we needed except generally. We were tough shoppers.

We were scheduled to begin on Monday evening after Alex got home from school somewhere between 8pm and 10pm. Alex was late... really late. I think we began that night around 11pm. He followed me to an old farm house about 3 1/2 miles from where we lived. A Jewish school owned the property. They placed a double wide modular on the property, a two story farm house from the early 1900's and a chicken shed and a horse barn. I taught a weekly parsha on Wednesday evenings there. Prior to this, the property had a very old rickety trailer that the shul's rabbi and other rabbium taught classes from most every night during the week. Very few people used the bathroom there. Now however the outreach program had moved to another location about 5 1/2 miles away, leaving another Rabbi and me to continue our programs in the new modular.

We pulled into the field. It was snowing. The ground was wet and cold. Alex parked close to the double wide. I parked a little farther away next to the barn. We unloaded the supplies.

We began by attempting to cut eight sections of 3/4" conduit to about 16" in length. A workbench and a sharp hacksaw blade would have been very helpful. During this time of struggle Eventually we completed our 8 cuts.

Next Alex and I took plastic buckets out into the field area to collect large rocks. This was helpful to the school because each year the field mowers would hit these rocks and damage or dull their mowers. They were always complaining about the rocks. They would be very pleased to see them gone. We collected several buckets of rocks.

I was complaining. If we had started on time we could have collected more rocks before the snowfall covered them... On the other hand Alex was so happy. It clearly didn't matter to him. He really enjoyed building the first Sukkah of his life. He was cherishing every minute. The weather was perfect in his view. He said something like, 'This is the kind of weather we have in Russia.' He could have stayed up all night.... He was / is very much at peace with himself and with nature. Especially that night. He is a really wonderful person.

We placed about a half dozen rocks in each bucket, then set the 3/4" conduit pipe in place.

Then we poured a bag of concrete into the wheelbarrow added some water and began mixing it. Next we began pooring concrete into the buckets over the rocks while at the same time trying not to disturb the pipe in the center.

When the buckets were finished we measured the 6"x6"x8' wooden posts in lengths of about 12" each. Then we cut them. That went fast with a bow saw.

The center of the post had to have a hole drilled about six inches into it. We were drilling vertically so that left us about six additional inches. It was about this time Alex asked me, "Akiva what are we doing?"

I said something like, 'Just trust me, we're almost done..' Alex was so good... he didn't argue. He continued on...

Now we drilled a hole four inches from the top and about two inches from the approximate location of the six inch hole at the base. We drilled the second hole through the side of the six inch post.

Then we turned the 6"x6" post to the side which had no holes. We measured down this time just two inches from the top and again drilled entirely through the six inch post. Now every side had a hole except for the top of the post.

Now we screwed one eye hook about one inch above the four inch hole then turned the post to the left. Now we screwed the second eye hook about one inch above the two inch hole. We did this to all eight posts.

It was about this time that Alex in his own good natured way asked for a second time, "Akiva, are you sure this will work?" Keep in mind, Alex was an engineer before coming to America. I understood his concern, Sukkot was now only about fourteen hours away. Try to understand, this is my first attempt at putting instructions for building a Sukkah in writing. At that time, trying to explain something like this is at 2:30 in the morning in the snow, wet and cold is not so easy especially when one has to daven in about five hours then go to work. Such questions only added to the pressure.

I assured Alex again that even though what we were doing did not make much sense it would work. We would put it up together after he got home from work, in about twelve hours.

Next we cut eight of the 10' x 1/2" conduit down to about 7' lengths based on what we understood the tarp length to be.

Now we went to the double wide trailer to finish connecting the tarps. There was a problem. the highly discounted tarps which were suppose to be 5'x7' were anything but that. It was really funny. They were all sizes. It was at this time that I was forced to confess to that my dream did not include these tarps but in reality 6mil clear plastic with grommets every twelve inches, cut and measured to the appropriate size. It was a weakness. The tarps were cheaper, did not require grommets and were stronger than 6mil plastic. Alex may have been in agreement. He looked puzzled. I felt the third question coming... He just stood there very calmly staring at the odd sized tarps with one hand on his chin.

We connected the tarps that were the aproximate same size. There were only several. However we made sure that the tops were all even. We connected eight tarps for one Sukkah and eight for the next Sukkah with the strapping tape. Then we covered it with plastic packaging tape.

Finally we loaded everything up in the truck and delivered an unassembled Sukkah to Alex's home and my home. At 3:30 in the morning, the 8 - 60-pound buckets felt like 300 pounds each.

The next afternoon before Sukkot began Joel, my son and I assembled The Sukkah, placed tables, chairs, heaters, lights and decorated it. Then Joel and I went over to Alex's and he already had his Sukkah up. He was so incredibly excited. His face was just beaming. His wife Ina and his two little children were overcome with such joy. Alex and I embraced with a big hug. He said to me, "Akiva, it's so wonderful!" Even though we were so tired everyone was so happy.

Building a Sukkah is so very special.

Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

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