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How To Celebrate Sukkot Without a Sukkah

Want to celebrate Sukkot without a sukkah this year? Here’s how.

The central symbol of the holiday of Sukkot is the sukkah, a temporary hut that is built outside to remind us of the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness, during which they dwelled in sukkahs. While many Jewish communal spaces have sukkahs for gathering, it can still be tricky for many of us to gather in crowded spaces these days. And many of us do not have our own sukkahs at home.

So what can you do if you want to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot in other ways without a sukkah? 

Have a picnic—in your backyard.

So you can’t have a meal in a sukkah. Your backyard (or deck or local park) is still a great place to bring the family and enjoy a meal al fresco. Yes, it’s a bummer not to be under the sukkah, but isn’t a big part of the holiday cooking seasonal meals and enjoying them outside with loved ones? Even if all the people you’d like to invite to your picnic blanket can’t safely join you, this is the time to love the ones you’re with. And eating outside on a picnic blanket is fun for the kids, period.

Go stargazing.  

While Jewish law teaches that the vegetation covering the top of the sukkah needs to be thick enough so that the shade inside the sukkah is greater than the sunlight, we also learn that ideally we should be able to see the stars through the top of the sukkah. Assuming the weather is cooperating, you still have access to gazing at the stars. If you have kids, do this as a family. It can be as simple as going outside and looking up at the sky, and hopefully you’ll have the pleasure of seeing some stars.

Help feed and shelter others.

In the 19th century the Chasidic Rabbi Hayyim Halberstam of Sandz popularized the practice among his followers of inviting poor people to be guests in their sukkahs. By volunteering at a food bank during Sukkot, we can carry on this wonderful idea of making sure that the less fortunate have food to eat. These days, more people than ever are relying on food banks. You can volunteer to pack food, or, if you’re trying to physically distance, many food banks still need volunteers to deliver food. Or you could make a donation to a local or national organization that provides food for those in need.

The sukkah, a temporary structure that isn’t nearly as sturdy as our homes, also reminds us of how fortunate we are to have a place to live with a roof over our head. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. Sukkot is a great time to explain this to your kids and to volunteer (again, options may be limited due to coronavirus) and/or to give money to a homeless shelter.

Make an edible sukkah.

If you can’t visit the real thing, why not make a sukkah out of food? This gingerbread house-like activity is popular with kids and adults alike. There are lots of ways to get creative with this project. Here’s one example from Tori Avey and here’s another easy how-to from the JCC of Greater Boston.

Harvest. Cook. Eat.

In the Bible, Sukkot is one of three harvest festivals (along with Passover and Shavuot) and it was originally considered a thanksgiving for the fall harvest. If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, get picking and cooking, and if not you can go to a farmer’s market or farm and buy or pick produce. Then use the local harvest to make yourself delicious meals during the holiday. See some of our favorite recipes for inspiration.

One of the names of Sukkot is Zeman Simchateinu or “season of our joy,” so whatever you do to celebrate the holiday, make sure to have fun!

Rabbi Robyn Frisch

Rabbi Robyn Frisch is the director of the 18Doors Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.