by Talya Hyman
Shalom New Haven Intern
Year after year, many Greater New Haven community members construct their own impressive and noteworthy sukkahs. Our fellow sukkah-builders have allowed us insight into their creation process through the sharing of tips, tricks, and personal family traditions.
Dena Schulman-Green shared her tried-and-true sukkah building tips to ensure a fun process for assemblers of all ages. “My advice on building a sukkah is first, to involve kids in whatever way they are ableschlepping, building, and/or decorating,” she said. “Thus, the second piece of advice is to provide donuts and apple cider to all the builders!”
Reena Seltzer utilizes her deck’s built-in benches for a convenient sukkah seating option. “Benches make it a lot easier in general to seat people than having chairs,” she explained in reference to the fact that chairs may take up valuable, limited space in a sukkah. Dena suggests that the sukkah be built as close as possible to the door nearest the kitchen to make food serving easy and most accessible.
Many households opt to adorn their sukkahs with decorations and other art pieces in enhancement of its beauty. For Reena, adding decorations is a necessary component to any sukkah. “I always prescribe to the idea of hidur mitzvah [beautification of a mitzvah],” she shared. “I really felt that the sukkah was a great Jewish ritual that we could enhance and embellish, and really make it aesthetically appealing.”
As it often rains during Sukkot, Dena advises going for waterproof decorations. “We made decorative chains out of craft foam that have held up,” she said. Dena also listed “a large poster of the Sukkot [blessing of] kiddush, decorations featuring the Seven Species of Israel, and an assortment of decorative fruits, birds, flowers, and musical instruments” among her family’s annual decorations. Reena makes use of laminated artwork and posters with Hebrew sayings, in addition to art pieces she finds from ceramic and glass artists like chimes and a mobile of the seven species.
The holiday table remains another important component to the sukkah’s construction and decoration process. “I love making and creating a tablescape [an artistically designed and arranged table] that fits in with the fall theme,” Reena said of her holiday table tradition. She even transforms fall-colored napkins into flowers that guests can then unfold and use during the meal. Dena and her family traditionally “place cards under everyone’s dinner plate, each with a holiday-themed question, such as, ‘If you could invite any person into the sukkah, who would it be and why?’ ” which keeps the festive meal lively and interactive. “This question relates to the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, or welcoming guests, which is a hallmark of Sukkot.”
Festival traditions are best celebrated when shared with family, friends, and the broader community, as is evident from these sukkah-builders’ love of hosting meals and parties. Reena entertains with Sukkot dinners, as well as some brunches and lunches. “It’s great to be able to host people, and it’s a very intimate setting,” she said. “There are no distractions and we are able to just sit together and eat and talk.” Dena said that her family invites friends over to their sukkah for snack and board game get-togethers, and this year, they are even planning to host a “Shakshuka in the Sukkah” party! “We also enjoy participating in our synagogue Sukkah Hop,” she added, “which is a wonderful way to welcome many friends to our temporary home.”
Many synagogues within our community organize an annual Sukkah Hop, an activity in which synagogue members visit each other’s sukkahs, schmooze over food, and marvel at decorations. Contact your synagogue to participate!