Between the temporary and the permanent: thoughts on Sukkot from Hausner middle school math teacher

 Jerry Brodkey

I woke up too early last Sunday morning and started thinking, for no apparent reason, about Sukkot. Over the years I haven’t thought much about this holiday. But this early morning was different. At Hausner, we’ve discussed the meaning of Sukkot, and how the holiday is celebrated. There is a beautiful Sukkah at school for gatherings—a temporary structure, like every Sukkah, that will soon be put away. The Middle School students and staff were challenged to think creatively about what Sukkot means for each of us -- what is the personal message of the holiday. The Hausner ideas and questions must have been swirling in my head. 

About fifteen years ago my brother gave my family a nice present - a Sukkah that we could assemble in the backyard. We put it up each year. We sometimes had friends over, decorated the Sukkah, ate ice cream, and had some meals there. This year I didn't assemble the Sukkah -- maybe because I was feeling a bit tired, maybe because our backyard is being changed from a lawn to some plantings that use less water. 
I always thought of our house being permanent while the Sukkah was a symbolic temporary construction. Maybe that way of thinking was wrong. We’ve been in our house for over 25 years and it feels as if it will never change. What could be more permanent? But things change. Last week I walked with a friend who told me how their home in the Lake Tahoe region barely survived when the fires stopped just two miles away. Another friend in New Jersey had their basement flooded and home damaged by the recent hurricane. Perhaps homes aren’t so permanent. I see neighboring homes being torn down and replaced. Perhaps the line between what is temporary and what is permanent isn’t that strong. 

At Hausner, we were asked to think about what is our personal Sukkah, our own place of comfort and safety. For me, it is our home. It is a modest home, and when we leave it will probably be quickly destroyed to make way for something grander. But it is our home. After a hard day’s work, after a frustrating experience, after receiving unsettling news from a doctor or family member, the home provides a place of comfort, a place of recovery, a place to invite friends, a place to sit and talk with family and neighbors. A place to rest and sleep. It surrounds us, it envelops us. It is our Sukkah.

We are among the most fortunate. Too many others don’t have a house or an apartment, not even a shelter to offer them a home. We see the homeless on the streets. We see the refugees on television, trying to survive in the harshest conditions. Our Sukkah, which we take down each year, would be a welcome start as a place of refuge for many. 

The line between the temporary and the permanent blurs. The Jewish People in the desert lived in small tents for forty years. The twenty-five years my family has been in our home passes like a blink of an eye. In fifty years our home will probably just be a memory, in one hundred years the memory will probably be gone. The distinction between a Sukkah and home blurs. Perhaps being home is like being in a temporary Sukkah. Perhaps being in the Sukkah creates part of the feeling of being home. 

Perhaps Sukkah means home.

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