For Yael Michaely, her husband Boaz, and their three young children, feeling at home in their new country began in earnest one autumn evening in 2004. For these Israelis recently transplanted to Newton, Massachusetts, the neighborhood sukkah hop transformed anonymous streets into a community and strangers into friends.
“The kids were running and playing together like old friends, and we grownups were getting to know each other walking from sukkah to sukkah,” recalled Michaely some 14 years later. “When we were so far from home, it made us feel like we had family here.”
Jews of all backgrounds have made her neighborhood feel like one big sukkah, she said.
“We come from different congregations — from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform to us secular Israelis, though everyone makes sure all the food is kosher so everyone can join in. I remember saying to my husband that one of my worries moving here was the kids’ Jewish identities. But that night was really reassuring.”
A “sukkah hop” revolves around a route of family sukkahs (and occasionally, synagogue ones, too). Hosts typically sign up far enough in advance to prepare something edible that visitors can enjoy on the run. As at many other hops, each family sukkah on the Newton route also has a special activity, like making a holiday-related craft or doing the blessing over the lulav and the etrog. The families end the night around a sukkah-side bonfire singing Jewish songs.
Some 55 Hebrew-school students from the Chabad Center in Fairfield, Connecticut, turn out for an afternoon of Sukkot fun each year. Rabbi Shlame Landa, co-director of Chabad of Fairfield with his wife, Miriam, said, “The kids will remember it always; it literally brings the Sukkot mitzvot home and, if they don’t already have one, they’ll go home afterwards and beg their parents to build one in their yard.”
For high school senior Shira Griffith, a highlight of a year is the annual sukkah hop sponsored by her USY chapter from Congregation Beth Am in San Diego, when dozens of lively teens eat their way through neighborhood sukkahs.
“So many events you’re stuck in a room for hours,” says Griffith. “Here, you are able to change scenery by walking from sukkah to sukkah, and you get to meet your friends’ families. It’s always a lot of fun.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Rochester, New York’s Congregation Beth Shalom invites the grownups to enjoy Sukkot at a leisurely pace. Their sukkah walk was born three years ago when Shari Woldenberg moved back to her hometown and told her Beth Shalom Sisterhood friends how fantastic their hop in Chicago had been. Now the walk has become a tradition; its recipe for success is four dishes (soup, salad, cholent and dessert) divided between four sukkahs, with each host giving a five-minute commentary on the holiday.
Though he’s seen a drop in the number of families having sukkahs at their own homes, Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Delaware, has high hopes for his communal celebration impacting the future. When he took the job 14 years ago, the Beals’ family sukkah was an epicenter for two hops. These days the ritual has shrunk. “But with so many young adults in their 20s and 30s showing up, I’m hoping they’ll experience how sweet it is to have a sukkah of their own ... and resolve to build a sukkah for their own families.”
The greatest advantage of a sukkah hop, said Michaely, is being welcomed into each sukkah “and seeing how each one looks and feels so different from the last one. Like something exciting is waiting for you at the next stop.”
And veteran hosts will tell you that, especially when most of the guests are kids, they do have a terrific time, though after they depart for the next sukkah, it appears as though a swarm of locusts has swept through, leaving candy wrappers and puddles of apple juice in their wake.
“That’s why it’s such a relief to be in the sukkah,” Michaely said. “Having the fun — and the mess and noise — outside really is a blessing.” JN