L'Chaim

Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 1998 / 12 Tishrei, 5759

At home in an 8-day house


Decorating gives a sukkah its own individual style


By Deborah Cymrot


WHAT DOES YOUR SUKKAH say about you? Like a more permanent home, a sukkah, to some extent, reflects its owners. While financial considerations may dictate a larger or smaller abode, or finer or rougher materials, there’s plenty you can do to personalize even the plainest structure.

Many families really enjoy the “back-to-nature” aspect of the holiday. You can tell these people by their shopping carts, piled high with multi-hued Indian corn, gourds prized for their bizarre shapes, bags of fragrant apples, oranges and cranberries, sacks of onions and garlic, colorful peppers and exotic varieties of produce that the owners wouldn’t begin to know how to prepare.

(When the cashier at the supermarket comments on your eating habits, you know you’ve gone overboard.)

Some families deplore wasting food. They are more likely to festoon their roof with plastic fruits and vegetables. Hanging New Year’s cards gives these greetings a new life and displays evidence of a rich social network without creating still more waste.

Like the refrigerator of a family with preschoolers, the sukkah of a family with young children often is plastered with crayoned and painted pictures of (occasionally recognizable) Sukkot scenes and symbols. Paper chains made in Jewish nursery school hang from the rafters, at least until the first hard rain.

Some folks are strictly no-fuss. They want a manufactured sukkah that requires little time and effort to put together. If canvas walls come printed with a few Sukkos images and words in Hebrew, that’s good enough for them. If the walls come without decorations, a couple of Sukkos posters from a Jewish bookstore will fill the bill.

There are people who use their sukkah to express aspects of their personalities that normally remain under wraps. A person who would shy away from anything gaudy or ungepatchkaed (eclectic taken beyond the limits of good taste) in a year-round home may find the very tackiness of tinsel and strings of colored lights most appealing in a sukkah. (One woman I know refuses to hang a painting her husband brought to the marriage inside their house, but she is perfectly content to display it in their sukkah.)

Some families use their decorations to reaffirm religious principle. In addition to a poster featuring the traditional ushpizin (seven historical “guests” invited into the sukkah), their sukkah walls might spotlight contemporary religious figures worthy of admiration and emulation, or show their love of Israel. Other posters may show the brachos (blessings) to be recited in a sukkah.

Just as some formal living rooms almost scream “Don’t touch,” some sukkos seem more for show than comfort. A family that goes into a sukkah for just a few minutes to say kiddush may not mind the dozens of yellow jackets attracted to beautifully strung cranberries.

Others, in keeping with the Jewish law that a sukkah mustliterally be like your home, provide almost all the comfort of indoors. Real furniture and Oriental carpets provide a sense of luxury, but it only works if the people don’t get uptight about “what if....”

Other people equally concerned about esthetics see the practical problems of decorating a sukkah as a design challenge. This kind of person will check out linen sales all year round in search of inexpensive sheets in a floral or trellis pattern to make a theme-appropriate “wallpaper.” Silver candlesticks will stay inside; import-store hurricane lanterns or votive holders will come outside. The table won’t sport damask, but one of the new generation of attractive vinyl tablecloths purchased to coordinate with the dishes. The look is sometimes less than formal, but the person who must set a pretty table in the dining room will do it here, too.

Chances are that your sukkah and its decorating will change over the years.

My husband has been working the past few nights on a system to increase our sukkah’s square footage. Over the years, I have accumulated some “finds” and retired the tinsel. Some of my daughter’s less enduring masterpieces are gone.

We're tired of scrambling into the house with our upholstered dining chairs at the first sprinkle and bought cheap folding chairs at an office supply outlet.

They’re not very attractive, though, and I’ve been thinking about ways to jazz them up.

Potomac, Md. resident Susan Levin is the founder of Succat Shalom, a firm that sells sukkah kits of her own design. (The business grew out of requests from friends and family members who asked if she could make them a sukkah kit like the one she created for her own family.) One of the things that Levin enjoys about the business is that she often has the opportunity to see the kits set up and decorated. They may start out the same, she told Washington Jewish Week, but they never stay that way. Each seems to be as unique as the family that lives in it.


LOW-COST DECORATING IDEAS


• Judaica shops usually sell a variety of posters, some especially for Sukkot.

Most need to be laminated or covered in clear plastic to weather a week. But don’t overlook other sources. A favorite photo of Israel, for example, can be blown up to poster size.

• Laminate your children’s art. Make the plastic go beyond the picture; when you punch a hole through the plastic only, the rain can’t work its way into the art itself.

• You can use a thin clothesline and colorful clips or clothespins to display Rosh Hashanah cards, postcards or photos.

• Consider a wind chime or light catcher. Some local Judaica stores are selling a wind chime with stars of David.

• In addition to your local supermarket, consider a farm market or nearby orchard or pumpkin farm for living decorations. These outlets often have a good selection of ornamental vegetables. There’s one kind of squash that actually looks like a swan; it would make a graceful centerpiece. Lacquered gourds will remain fresh throughout the holiday.

• Foods can be hung in several ways. With a strong needle and sometimes a pair of pliers, you can thread your yarn through the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. It looks good but tends to attract insects. You can choose pieces with stems to which you can tie your yarn. Sometimes the fruit slips out of its tie, though; you don’t want to be sitting underneath at the time. Inexpensive netting in pale shades (available at craft and fabric stores) can be fashioned into a cradle for one or more pieces.

• Craft stores sell lots of plastic and fabric fruit, vegetables and greenery. By mixing real fruits with the best of the phony stuff, you may be able to fool your guests while disappointing the wasps.

• Paper chains are easy to make, but children are disappointed when they don’t last. Popcorn also dissolves in the rain, and more kernels get eaten than strung, you’ll notice. Equally easy are chains made of polystyrene peanuts used for wrapping fragile items. They’re either free or very cheap, can be pierced easily with a blunt needle and look good no matter how irregularly they’re threaded. Dip them in paint, or daub them for more eye appeal.

• Create a “window” to take advantage of a nice view. A window box outside adds a nice touch.

• Some stores are beginning to stock Christmas decorations. If you choose carefully, no one will know the original purpose for that ornament.

• Walk around a close-out store with your eyes wide open. Don’t think of what something was made for; think what it could become with some ingenuity.

• No matter how nice your sukkah looks, people will want to desert it if the bugs take up shop. Some stores sell yellow-jacket baits, but you can make your own and leave them a few yards away from the sukkah. Take a long narrow jar. Pierce a hole or two in the cover with the sharp end of a bottle opener. In the bottom of the jar put some honey and a small piece of meat. The yellow jackets fly in but can’t get out.

• Put safety high on your agenda. Space often is tight in a sukkah, and things do get bumped and knocked over. Be especially careful about candle placement, and consider special arrangements to prevent a fire.


Deborah Cymrot is the Community Editor at the Washington Jewish Week.


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©1998, Deborah Cymrot. Courtesy of the Washington Jewish Week