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Do it yourself sukkah – part one

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(Wikimedia Commons photo)

If you’ve ever wanted to release your inner (Jewish) handyman/woman, there’s no time like the present. Sukkot is almost here and rather than shell out for a pre-fab sukkah kit, why not consider building one yourself? Plans abound online as do people who would be happy to have you walk in their footsteps.

But before you touch that hammer or head off to the lumberyard, ask yourself: is it REALLY worth the effort?

Absolutely, say the people behind the Three Jews, Four Opinions blog: “Everyone can do what they love. Orthodox Jews can focus on lots of technical halachic details, like how much wall flapping is permitted. Reform Jews can think about social justice issues, like people who have no home at all, let alone a sukkah. Conservative Jews can agonize endlessly over which Sukkot rules to change, if any, and who should make that determination, and how, and after considering what, and … And if they are using their sukkah from last year, Reconstructionist Jews may literally be reconstructing. But the one thing that should unite everyone is that Sukkot is a holiday of joy. Literally: z’man simchateinu.”

 

Building My Sukkah || Mayim Bialik

And now that you’ve been inspired, here’s some practical advice. “The main thing to remember about building our own sukkah is that it’s both easy and hard to make it kosher — easy if you concentrate on the basics, hard if you get caught up in the externals.” And that brings me to the basic halachot for building a sukkah. It includes the critical rules about size, location and materials.

For clarity, you can’t beat wikiHow’s How to Build a Sukkah: 9 steps (with pictures.) While the site doesn’t provide specific plans, it does supply excellent advice to help you get going – and avoid pitfalls:

  • Most experts suggest that you should start building your sukkah right at the end of Yom Kippur. If you cannot start building at the end of the day, then start early the next morning. Ideally, the structure should be finished on the day after Yom Kippur, but don’t finish until the structure is built safely.
  • Building your sukkah near your home is ideal for convenience. One important condition, however, is that the sukkah must be exposed to open sky because it must be able to provide functional shade to represent the protection similar to what the huts gave Jews in the wilderness.
  • Rebuild your sukkah each year. You can reuse the base of your sukkah each year. However, you must replace the schach materials of the roof. Store the structure safely to protect it from wind and water.

 And if you’d like detailed instructions with plans:

  • Ariel Zusya Benjamin has provided a step-by-step instructions using galvanized steel pipe and Kee Klamps
  • Instructables.com has plans for a “simple” sukkah using PVC pipes
  • And Jerome Danoff of Congregation Beth El of Bethesda has really outdone himself. He has uploaded a 24-page (!) pdf with extremely detailed instructions for building an 8’ x 8’ wooden sukkah. And then, if you have time – and space – on your hands, you can then try out the Instructions for Adding a Sukkah Extension to convert to a more spacious 8’ x 12’.

 

How to build a simple PVC Sukkah

And since I believe that it’s important to walk the walk, here’s a video of me putting up my sukkah (which I designed myself) while explaining the rules and symbolism. (Don’t miss part 2!)

I was struck by one article which seemed too good to be true: “How to build a sukkah in 30 minutes.” Upon further inspection, I noticed that the piece delivered as promised IF you live in Arizona and only need lattice walls to protect you from the elements. Oh, we the North!

 Here’s one which claims you don’t need to break the bank and can Build a Sukkah for Under $40. Rabbi David Seidenberg writes, “Sukkah kits cost upwards of a few hundred dollars! A homespun sukkah is way better, for the earth, for the wallet, and for the spirit.” His caption under a photo of his sukkah: “This is the sukkah frame I made according to this plan, still standing at Purim after a hard winter.”

 

A Guide to Building a Kosher Sukkah

With all that planning, what could possibly go wrong? Plenty, says Rabbi Elianna Yolkut. After a rainstorm, her “entire PVC-pipe-and-tarp sukkah had been lifted in the air, moved across the yard 30 feet away, and completely blown off the patio where we had sat in it for the first two days of the holiday.”

Was it a disaster? Hardly. There was a lesson to be learned, as she explains, “The holiday of Sukkot teaches us more than to simply ‘recognize life’s fragility.’ It calls upon us to embrace the uncertainty of life by not simply living in a temporary structure under a porous roof – day in and day out, rain or shine – but celebrating in it, and thus thriving in it. As in life, we are asked to not simply live, but to ‘choose life.’ In so doing, to relish all of life: its celebratory moments and its temporary nature.”

Next time, why sukkahs haven’t always brought harmony between neighbours, and construction plans for a sukkah that is clearly outside the box.

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