Sukkah Scare:
Less Than 2 Weeks After 9/11


A quiet couple in Southgate, Kentucky lived on the top floor of a condominium. It had a view overlooking a hill where the deer would play, and just below was a little stream. It was very picturesque and secluded. They had just started to study Judaism and were ready and raring to build their very first sukkah [temporary Holiday structure].

The only problem was that the Condo Association had very strict rules for outside appearances, and even regulated what you could keep on your deck. There simply was no time to submit a request for approval and try to explain the Jewish holiday. (The whole local municipality was documented as being 97 percent Catholic.) The couple reasoned that Sukkot lasts only eight days, and they were on the back side of the building, so they could get it down before anyone realized that it was there. Besides, who would even really care? The idea was to try to keep everything quick, quiet, and appear as temporary looking as possible. They certainly didn't want the Condo Association to be thinking that they were adding on a permanent addition without a permit!

Weathered 2x3's were used to form a crude wood frame. Someone was throwing out a huge cardboard box which formed instant walls. Drywall screws were put in by hand as to have no noise from hammering or power tools. The materials were quietly put on the deck, and the whole structure went up in minutes. There weren't enough large sheets of cardboard, so a window was formed on the back side to conserve it.

The ceiling of a sukkah must be made from something that grows from the ground and is cut. Occasionally, the condo maintenance people would cut down the scrubby bushes above the creek bed, so it seemed like it would be doing them a favor if a few bushes were trimmed for them. From above, it was described like this: "That guy had disappeared for quite awhile and I wondered what had become of him. I looked out the window down towards the stream, and saw this bush wildly waving back and forth! You could see no person, just a bush, 'dancing' on the hill. Yes, it was that guy with the beard, struggling to free the bush from vines. It was quite a sight!"

Now how to get the bush up to the deck? Originally, it was planned to be hoisted straight up with a rope, but it was feared that the neighbors below may be somewhat disturbed by the sight of bushes flying past their windows and complain. This left only one other option: To bring it up through the main entrance. After all, the local inhabitants of the building would bring in small pine trees in the winter... so perhaps this wouldn't be so unusual? Several sections of the bush were dragged from the back, all the way around the side, through the parking lot, down the sidewalk, in the entrance, up three full flights of steps, through the condo door, into the living room, and finally out onto the deck. Three trips left a rather incriminating trail of leaves and twigs, which were promptly cleaned up. So much for being discreet. It's not every day that you see people stuffing twelve-foot scrub-brush into their condo!

It was nearly sundown on Erev Sukkot, but the sukkah was finished just in time. It was a lovely little sukkah, and its owners were really in the spirit of the holiday. They ate their first Sukkot meal out there under the honeysuckle leaves laden with red berries, and they were so happy. The next day they enjoyed relaxing as they watched planes fly by in the clear autumn sky through the huge celestial window.

One day it rained and made the walls soggy and come loose. Repairs were necessary over Chol HaMoed [the in-between days]. During repairs, a local police officer called up from the ground. A quivering voice replied, "Am I disturbing anyone... violating any codes or anything?" The cop didn't seem too concerned about those things, but asked, "What are you doing?" Knowing that the officer wouldn't know any Hebrew terms, the reply was, "This is, uh... uh... a 'booth', for the uh... 'Feast of Tabernacles'; it's in the Bible. For seven days we are supposed to dwell in a temporary dwelling. I'll be taking it down in a few more days." The cop asked, "What do you do in there?" "Mostly... we eat!" was the timid reply. (As the sukkah's owner envisioned a citation for a public eyesore, the last question threw him totally off guard.) The policeman questioned, "May I ask what religion you are practicing when you are doing this?" The puzzled sukkah owner replied, "Judaism." Apparently, all these answers satisfied the cop and he went away without issuing any tickets or fines, and strangely enough no warnings came from the Condo Association.

After the eighth day, the warpy-paneled sukkah was ready to be taken down. The leaves were now withered and the berries were falling everywhere. The soggy cardboard was dismantled, and the frame was taken apart. The next door neighbor came out on her deck, and the sukkah owner apologized, saying, "We didn't mean to bother anyone, it's just a religious thing." Amazingly, she said, "Yes, I know... Sukkus." Bewildered, the owner looked over at her and said, "You know about Sukkot?!" She replied, "When the cop had told me about your conversation, I called Jewish Federation. I was so relieved when they told me that there really was a Jewish holiday in which people build these things. I was so scared!"

It finally dawned on the sukkah owners, that it was only two weeks after "9/11". Moreover, the owner had just grown a full dark beard, the sukkah was on the back deck with a window facing up toward the sky, right in the flight path of the Greater Cincinnati Airport (CVG). Evidently, the unknowing neighbors thought the sukkah people were terrorists who had put up some kind of camouflaged observation platform to track planes or perhaps even shoot them down!

You can only imagine what the neighbors must have been thinking, "The whole world is on red alert... that quiet neighbor, he just grew a beard... a camouflaged structure overlooking the flight-path of an international airport... he's inside for hours at a time... what is he doing in there?!?"

It was truly a sukkah scare!

May your Sukkot be pleasant and slightly-less suspicious,

Chag Sameach [Happy Holiday],

The Jewlight Staff.

(Based on an article originally written by Jewlight Co-Founder Chasya Katriela, and edited by the Jewlight CEO, DH.)

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