Many years ago, we were denied permission to construct a sukkah on the roof of our Brooklyn apartment building. As a result, we brought our own food to join other apartment-dwellers for meals in our synagogue sukkah. We enjoyed the camaraderie and informality and appreciated accompaniment when we walked home at night.
Our friends, Suri and Shlomo Baron, lived in our building. They had four children in their three-bedroom apartment, but when their fifth child was on the way, they decided to find a larger space where they could house their family as it grew.
With the help of their parents, the Barons purchased a four-family residence on a slowly gentrifying street just over a mile from us. Suri’s oldest sister had two married daughters who lived in two units of the building, and Suri and Shlomo took the other two. A bonus of owning a multi-family residence in impossible-to-find-a-parking-space Brooklyn is the extra-wide side driveway that comes with it, leading to a backyard two-car garage. The Baron’s driveway abutted another wide driveway, belonging to the multiple-family home next door, where the Aronins lived. The result was a shared four-lane-wide paved, flat surface. Who could ask for a better spot in which to build a great big sukkah!
The year the Barons moved away, Suri called, urging us to join them for dinner on the first night of Sukkot. We had to consider the following variables:
Our synagogue was a short, unimpeded walk from our apartment; the Barons lived more than a mile away, and Zvi and I don’t drive on the first and last days of Sukkot.
Dinner would start after evening services, and because the Barons were known for lots of spirited after-dinner singing (which we didn’t want to miss) we would likely head home in the middle of the night.
We wouldn’t go to the Barons empty-handed, so we would bring dessert. Suri told me she was inviting around 20 guests. If I made dessert for Zvi and myself to eat in the shul sukkah, it would be a small banana loaf cake. If we went to the Barons’ gathering, we’d bring three more elaborate confections. Yes, and fruit.
The weather had already turned unseasonably cold, so we would eat outside wearing coats. Dinner in the shul sukkah would be short and sweet. In the musically enriched sukkah, the meal plus songs could run to four hours or more.
It isn’t every day one gets invited to a five-hour meal to which you walk a mile and in which you wear a winter coat. Without a moment’s hesitation, we accepted Suri’s invitation.
On the given Sukkot night we headed to the Barons. In a cart, we carried three cakes and several bunches of grapes. To navigate the nighttime trek, we wore reflective vests and sturdy sneakers, and we dressed for warmth, rather than style. Readiness, as I learned when I was a Brownie, is everything.
Yet, there was no way we could have prepared for what we saw.
As we neared the Barons’, bright light shone through the darkness, emanating from their mammoth sukkah. The brilliance came from three crystal chandeliers hanging from decorated bamboo rafters. Five long tables, covered in embroidered white tablecloths, stood upon a (maybe real, maybe imitation) Persian carpet. The sukkah walls were draped in maroon faux velvet, intermittently tied back with wide silver ribbons. The tables were set with china, cloth napkins and etched glass drinking vessels.
A charming group of people of all ages, dressed in holiday clothes, greeted us. Shlomo made the introductions. Suri’s older children were cheerful servers, and we dined like royalty. The evening in that magnificent sukkah, with special food and interesting people, presented a Sukkot celebration we had never experienced. I’m happy to report that Zvi and I were good guests, the kind that honor the hostess by eating non-stop and honor the host by singing along to songs we didn’t know. We had so much fun, we were happy to stay to help clean up.
It was almost 2 a.m. when we got home, with a big bag of leftovers Suri insisted putting into our cart. We loved sharing the bounty with the apartment-dwellers in the shul sukkah the following evening.
Chana Shapiro is a regular columnist for the Atlanta Jewish Times