Sukkot is one of Judaism’s major holidays. In the past, it was a time to celebrate the harvest, but in a major city like Atlanta, it is a wonderful time to invite friends and family to share in the holiday. As a ritual house, the sukkah in scale and architecture is closest to that of a traditional building. It is both a personal architecture and a communal ritual. The building is for personal use, and yet it connects the individual to the community. The sukkah walls and the inside roof are often decorated beautifully. One can actually live, eat and maybe even sleep in a sukkah.
Henry Benamram said his sukkah fits six people. Food will be served “family-style and they will not wear a mask because the number of people they invite will be less than in previous years.”Orthodox Jews take the construction of their own sukkah seriously. There is a construction manual to build a kosher one. The manual focuses on the size, material, construction method and the site itself. Without going into a great deal of detail about making the sukkah kosher, the three basic requirements are: there must be at least three stable sides to the sukkah (one side can be less than a complete side), the covering of the roof must be with only natural material that came from the ground (called sekhakh), with the most likely material being bamboo mats. The sekhakh must be placed in such a way to have small openings to let rain in and allow a person to see the stars through the roof at night. So the site should not be under any covering or tree branches. It should have direct access to the sky.
In my Orthodox neighborhood, there are upwards of 50 to 100 sukkot that are built, and the building begins right after Yom Kippur, since four days later begins the nine-day Sukkot holiday. Beth Jacob Synagogue usually builds a huge sukkah capable of holding 75 to 150 people, and the Kiddush after service on the holiday is held there.
I asked Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, executive director of the synagogue, what the synagogue will do for the holiday. He said, “We will very likely build the sukkah, but there will not be a Kiddush there after services, and no programs on a large scale will be be held there. Social distancing will not be possible because of the sukkah’s size, and a large crowd will make it too dangerous for catching the coronavirus. However, anyone that wishes to say the prayer for their lulav and esrog would be able to do so, and anyone could study there by themselves.”
When I asked him about building his own sukkah, he was clear that he would construct one, but he would not invite a large group to attend, and probably keep attendance to his family and one other.
Marsha Kramer said, “We have a permanent structure attached to our house that is the framework for a sukkah, so we will not have to do much to make our own sukkah.” Roberta Scher said that she and her husband usually travel up north to their son’s family for the holiday, so they don’t build their own sukkah in Atlanta. However, she said, “This year we are likely to be staying home, so we are not sure what we will do.”
Henry Benamram told me he has built a sukkah in the past and will build one this year that holds six people, and it will be the same size as in past years. Food will be served “family-style and we will not wear a mask because the number of people we invite will be less than in previous years.”
Yacov Freedman also said he will be building the same sukkah as in past years and it holds seven people. They use it only for their immediate family. They will not be wearing masks because they “will not be inviting guess except for, perhaps, my wife’s sister and her family, since we know they are isolating to immediate family.” When I asked about the difference this year, he said, “In a weird way it’ll be very welcome. Since we are now encouraged to eat outside anyway, at least we’ll also be getting a mitzvah while doing so. Also, by Sukkot, the weather is usually pretty nice.” Other friends say they don’t build their own sukkah, but usually visit sukkot of others. They are not sure if those sukkot will be built or available for visitors.
In my own case, my wife and I have built a sukkah for many years. We constructed our home such that the frame of the roof of the sukkah would be permanently attached to our garage, but we would have to construct the walls and add the sekhakh. Our sukkah is large enough to accommodate up to a dozen or more people, but that would not be possible given the coronavirus situation. We probably will build the sukkah, but it won’t be the same celebration holiday as in the past.