There's a sukkah in my back yard! Well, it's not quite a a back yard; I live in an apartment building. But we do have an alleyway where one of my neighbors got permission (after much wrangling with the co-op board about questions of church vs. state on public property--even though we have a Christmas tree and menorah in our lobby every December) to build a small sukkah, and I'm invited to eat there whenever I'd like. This has left me giddy with delight, way happier than I ever imagined a sukkah could make me feel--I think I'm appropriately drunk on holiday spirit. Sukkot is "z'man simhateinu," "season of our joy," and was once considered the most important and ecstatic day of the year; Rosh Hashanah existed primarily to mark the month in which Sukkot arrived. It ceded rank in recent times to the weightier Yom Kippur, its ancient and mystical ritual of waving a lulav and etrog during prayer usually relegated to a symbolic shake while taking a break from hanging cutouts of paper fruit from the roof of the sukkah. Even after six years of Hebrew School I had no idea what people actually did with the arba minim. My father, along with a lot of old men early in the morning before women climbed up to the balcony, must have waved appropriately at shul, but never clued me in.
I went to services yesterday morning, shook in the directions of heaven, earth, and the four corners of the universe (paying careful attention, as the rabbi suggested, to the "earth" shake, a direction where we had the best chance of jarring something loose), and then ran home to eat a quick sandwich in the sukkah--my sukkah!--before heading out to my niece's birthday party/fundraising event. The sukkah, suitably flimsy and with bamboo mats as s'chach, sits within a canyon of red brick and humming air conditioners. A man I didn't recognize was already inside at a tiny table waiting for his daughter, a neighbor I'd seen occasionally in the elevator. We Jews no longer "look Jewish" and I try not to make assumations, but this woman had bright red hair, green eyes, and a petite nose; I figured she davened at St. Ignatius of Loyola. I was wrong; she is, in fact, a professor of Yiddish. I made kiddush and we all shared the grape juice in our sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace in a city and world which most of the time is not.