Of the many Jewish holidays I observed blindly and with boredom as a kid, Sukkot aroused the least of my interest. One day not long after it became too chilly outside to wear shorts, a sukkah with green plastic walls would sprout in the parking lot behind the Kissena Jewish Center. My father and other old men in dark suits would crowd inside and sip shot glasses of wine while I swiped a sugar cookie or two and went out front to play with my friends. Sometimes I'd wander back in and examine, as if it were a breakable alien artifact, the lulav and etrog left behind on a folding table. We never had a set of our own at home; I never thought to ask why. And, despite six years of Hebrew School, I had no idea what you actually did with them except draw their portraits in crayon to hang on the green plastic walls. Like waiting five hours to have ice cream after eating a hot dog, and other odd rules, I figured that the strange plant and fruit combination was obtained and contemplated on Sukkot just because.
I did my best to ignore Sukkot until I joined my synagogue and learned that it was, in fact, a pretty cool holiday. I still don't really understand why we shake the lulav and etrog; last year was the first time I was able to approach the act with reverence and curiosity as an ancient Jewish ritual rather than reluctantly as a strange pagan one. Sukkot, a few thousand years ago, was the most important day of the year, and Rosh Hashonah just a preamble to signify the beginning of the month that hosted the harvest festival on its full moon. Sukkot post-demotion still wears the crown of "z'man simhatenu," "the season of our joy," and it always does make me happy. Maybe it's just relief from those previous forty days of soul-searching; now all I have to do is sit, eat and drink to be a good Jew. Maybe it's about that last chance to have a picnic before the weather gets cold.
I hope, one day, to celebrate this holiday away from the city. I don't think I'll ever understand the fragility of sitting under stars and within straw walls if my only sukkah experiences continue to take place on sidewalks behind tall buildings. Still, I've gotten pretty good at convincing myself that the apartment windows glimmering through a roof of woven pine branches are really lights much higher in the heavens, and delighting in the view.