Being an empty nester on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is not for lightweights. No more little helpers eager to hang all those adorable and by now faded and partially crushed sukkah decorations made in school over the years. No more little voices begging to spend the night under the stars, barely sheltered by the brush and bamboo we use as a sukkah roof, nestled into sleeping bags cuddling with their mamma on sheepskins and air mattresses. No more raucous gatherings with teens wolfing down pizza and junk food, leaving a mess, but non the less doing it in the sukkah and thereby performing the mitzvah of “le-shev be-sukkah“—to sit in the sukkah.
Not only are my boys no longer living at home, but I am also temporarily (but voluntarily) displaced, and so have not put up a sukkah this year. In order to feel the closeness of my three sons whom I miss even more intensely than usual whenever a holiday comes around, I group-texted them a holiday greeting with a question: What is your favorite memory from growing up celebrating Sukkot?
Their sweet responses made me laugh out loud while I relished their memories, vividly seeing each of them in their own articulation of holiday enjoyment:
Tobi, my oldest, the peace-maker and gentle soul with a sweet tooth, said he fondly recalled all the “joyous Sukkot meals with lots of different guests…And the honey on the challah” (a family tradition we started was to dip the challah in honey for the WHOLE month of Tishrei).
Gabi, my middle son, the foodie with the competitive edge who is wooed by all things great, loved the sukkah hops, and “getting to see who had the best snacks and the coolest set-up.” He added, “I remember the Feigenbaums always had junk food and we always had the most fun sukkah!”
And Benya, my youngest, the pensive creative spirit and practical problem-solver, remembered how much he enjoyed “setting up the sukkah and making it look nice with all the ornaments and art from school.”
For a few precious moments the boys felt as if they were huddling right next to me reminiscing, and I was tickled to see how their memories corresponded in quality to each unique character. This in turn reminded me of how it’s our individual nature that feeds and shapes our memories.
Chag sameach! Happy Sukkot!
May your family holiday memories be as brilliant as the stars in the sky!
Photo credit: Chabad.org
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