Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Masters of Sukka Improvisation

September 18, 2013

Masters of Sukka Improvisation

Living in the same house for many years leads to a certain ease, even laziness, when it comes to building the Sukka, the hut we live in for a week this time of year. We have the same materials, the same position, the same techniques. My older boys have been taking care of it the last few years, to the point where I needed to do next to nothing.

This year was a completely different story. New house, no materials, no familiarity with the local supply and construction styles. I got two recommendations for people who can build them. One was very expensive and the other was not so cheap either and would only build the frame. Two righteous friends volunteered to help me build it on my own. One would source the materials. I invited two co-workers to help me as well. Then Uruguay was hit with the storm of the year, a deluge with strong winds that lasted for days and only ended the night before Sukkot.

We met this morning, with another friend using his truck to transport the beams and supports that were borrowed from a construction site. My friend apologized for the minimal materials, but that was all he could get. I looked at the materials and thought it might have been worth the price to pay the contractor. There were four adjustable metal support beams that in the end were rusted tight at different lengths, severely constricting how we might use them. There were wide wooden planks, not at all the perfectly tailored wooden beams I was used to in Israel.

Making due with what we have...
Making due with what we have…

But what we were lacking in refinement of materials we made up for in enthusiasm. We placed one beam on top of two pieces of firewood. Two beams went on top of heavy wooden benches we have on the deck, one of them strapped tight to two bar stools and two long pieces of firewood (my structural engineering professor would have either torn me apart for my amateurish improvisation or lauded me for the resourcefulness given limited time and less materials). One beam actually rested on the deck floor, all of them tied down somewhat precariously with wire.

Standard principles, non-standard materials.
Standard principles, non-standard materials.

Then we had a mismatch of metal and wooden beams above that reminded me a bit of an Escher painting, where I wasn’t sure what was up and what was down and where things actually started. However, incredibly, almost beyond belief, by the end of the process we had a fairly sturdy Sukka (let’s see how it holds up…).

The Sukka Crew
The Sukka Crew

It had been a long time since I had really built a Sukka from scratch and much less improvised to such an extent. There was something incredibly joyous about such an exercise especially with new, good friends sharing in the challenge and the experience. I think that is a small aspect of what the holiday of Sukkot is about. I’m looking forward to the rest.

Chag Sameach!

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