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Building a Sukkah

We have built a number of different sukkot over the years. Our very first sukkah, built in 1978 (the year we got married), followed the pattern suggested in The Jewish Catalog edited by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld, and Sharon Strassfeld. The upright supports were 2x4s that were held up by concrete blocks. We used old blankets and pieces of fabric for the walls -- and we were lucky if it stayed up for all 8 days.

Our next sukkah (ca. 1983, by age of the child in the picture) was a little more sturdy.

sukkah at River Park

This sukkah was an 8-foot cube. The bottom half of each wall is a 4x8 plywood sheet and the top half of the walls is fabric that was stapled to the top and bottom boards. The roof was made by putting lattice strips (1x2 boards) across the top and then tossing some branches trimmed from bushes and trees in our yard on top. The concrete blocks from earlier versions of the sukkah are visible to one side.

We decorated with Miriam's art work (yes, she is the child in the picture), paper chains, and real fruit and vegetables. Some years we did popcorn and cranberry chains. We had some rag rugs that we used for a "floor" in our sukkah.

We assembled this sukkah as 3 panels and then nailed/lashed them together in an upright position. These panels moved with us twice, but had been long abandoned by the time we left Massachusetts in 2003. As you can see, one side was left open. Every year we had an Open Sukkah party and invited all our friends and coworkers, so we needed easy access. We tried to eat other meals there, but this was in the Dark Ages (before electricity) so we rarely managed more than breakfast out there during the week.

By the time we reached our third home with this sukkah, it was getting kind of tired. A friend helped us by bracing the corners of the panels and we managed to use it a couple of more years, but it was getting time to move on. The same friend put together a semi-prefabricated sukkah for us:

pvc pipe sukkah

The frame of this sukkah was PVC pipe and the sides were tarps. The tarps were attached to the walls using bolts that went through the pipe -- our friend drilled holes through the pipes to match up with the grommets on the tarps. The sukkah sat directly on the ground in the back yard, but was supported by stakes pushed into the ground. (The corner poles went down over the stakes.)

We used the same lattice strips and yard trimmings for the roof, but at this house we had to abandon the the idea of using fresh fruits and vegetables and anything else even mildly edible as decorations. The first year we tried, the squirrels, raccoons, skunks, groundhogs, chipmunks, deer, and foxes that lived in the woods all enjoyed the sukkah almost as much as we did. After that, we decided to provide a feast for the animals that was slightly removed from our temporary dwelling.

We did electrify the sukkah at this location by running a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord from an exterior outlet to the sukkah. This allowed us to hang a central light and use the sukkah in the evenings. Every year we tried to spend at least one night sleeping out in the sukkah as well.

In 1995, we added a deck to the back of that house, with the specific intention of using it to hold our sukkah. At first, we just put our PVC-pipe and tarp sukkah on the deck, but we eventually decided to build our sukkah around the deck so that we had a bigger sukkah and the full use of the deck.

sukkah on deck

sukkah at on deck

These pictures are taken from inside the sukkah. The sides were bolted together using carriage bolts and then lashed to the deck railings. Because the deck was fairly large, we also used 2x4s across the top of the sukkah to hold the lattice strips (yes, still the same pieces we bought for our first sukkah). Our s'chach had changed to bamboo mats by the time these pictures were taken. We found that getting branches up onto the top of an 8-foot tall sukkah that sat on a deck that was 8 feet off the ground was ... a challenge.

Our decorations had also evolved over the years. Not only did we have a central overhead light, we strung all kinds of lights around the sukkah. We started with some fruit and vegetable lights we found in a catalog, then we added some autumn leaf lights. By the time these pictures were taken, one of the kids had fallen in love with icicle lights, so we had those running around the edge of the sukkah. We also had lots of chile pepper lights (New Mexico has always been the home of my heart).

In lieu of real fruits and vegetables, we started buying stained glass fruits and vegetables at crafts shows. In the first picture above, you can see a green pepper silhouetted against the tarp and in the second picture above, you can see a stained-glass eggplant toward the top left corner of the picture.

In this second picture, you can also see the exit from the deck. We hung a tarp across the exit, but let it hang loose so that we could get on and off the deck from the yard without problems. The other tarps were secured by using cup hooks on the boards to match up with the grommets on the tarps. We also secured the sides at the bottoms with cup hooks screwed directly into the deck or simply by tying down the bottoms of the tarps.

Dwelling in the Sukkah

We eat there, we entertain there, and sometimes we sleep there.