You know how when you go back home after many years away, and nothing's changed? Nothing. The same paintings on the wall. The same salt shakers. The same cracked wooden handle on the soup ladle. The same furniture. The same chotchkes in the curio cabinet. If it's been awhile, you see things with a newer eye-like when you go back to your middle school (we used to call it junior high) and the halls are really narrow, but you didn't realize it then. The paint looks a little faded, and the furniture is more worn than you thought, even though it was always like that. Maybe some of you are the type to remodel on a regular basis -but the people I grew up with didn't.
About a month ago, we lost a dear family friend. "Family friend" doesn't really cut it-more like a constant presence in our family. When I went over to the house for shiva (condolence call), I looked around the house. I hadn't been there in a while, but had seen many of the decorations and household items for years growing up. I stepped into the house and stepped back in time. His kids and I were suddenly a whole lot younger, as if our own children didn't exist outside the force field that was their front step.
Our own homes, maybe our grandparents' homes, and the homes of our parents' closest friends-these places are both fixed and movable- we take them with us throughout our whole lives, just as they were, unchanging. They exist in a realm that may or may not be connected to reality. Sometimes people really do get new couches, but those aren't the ones in our permanent, portable memories.
Jewish life gives us an opportunity to create this kind of fixed-yet-movable home every year, when we build a sukkah. The same decorations are put up, the same table takes over the space, even the markings on the 2x4's that match up the corners look familiar. Though designed to be temporary, the family sukkah is everlasting. The story of Sukkot may highlight the impermanence of the structure, but each year's sukkah becomes more and more constant. The power of tradition turns the fragile into sturdy.
Sukkot comes at a time of transition, between the heat of summer and the winter cold. Winter compels us prepare, hunker down, settle in, stock up on supplies and build a strong shelter for the season. That is not a sukkah. It's the opposite of what a sukkah is. Yet, this is the structure we are told to build for moving between summer and winter. We're moving between more than the seasons. We're moving between the past and the future, as we mark the New Year.
We started building a sukkah when our kids were little. Year after year, there are pictures of "International Sukkah Building Day" (the Sunday between Yom Kippur and Sukkot). They aren't around much to help build now, so we import some young friends. I hope they have a permanent, yet fleeting memories of Friday night dinners in the sukkah-cozy, intimate, friends at the table, soft lights from the candles and the little light bulbs strung among the schach (covering). A sukkah may be temporary, but the memories it generates are anything but.
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.