October 14, 2014
It feels like just yesterday that I was only 5 years old, hard at work helping my father, Rabbi Eckstein, build our family sukkah for the Sukkot holiday. I can still feel the cold wind of Chicago that blew against my face as I proudly held the hammer and nails while my father concentrated on determining exactly where those nails were supposed to go. We stood outside in our backyard together for hours, wrapped in scarves and knit hats, eager to figure out the puzzle of our sukkah. Year after year, this was our tradition.
I still laugh when I think about the scenes from this special bonding activity. I can vividly remember my father spending nearly an hour matching up two of the walls perfectly, only to have one of them fall down when he removed his arm for just a moment to take the hammer and nail from me. “It’s ok,” he said, his voice full of love and encouragement as he picked up the heavy wood board and began putting it back in place. “This is just part of the fun.”
We spent nearly an entire day building the sukkah, and when the four walls were finally standing, we would take a few steps back. With his arm around my shoulders, my father and role model would look deep into my eyes and thank me for helping him. I might have been only 5 years old, but I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
For a week straight, my family would bundle in heavy winter coats and brave the notorious rain, wind, and cold of Chicago to fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah that my father and I built. With the dozens of decorations that my sisters and I diligently prepared hanging on every wall and from the ceiling, it truly felt like home.
In our home, holidays weren’t stressful. They were always full of laughter and love. My mother never complained about the dirt tracks in the house when we all ran inside during a downpour. My father never sped up the blessings because it was too cold outside in the sukkah. And, taking cues from our parents, we kids didn’t even think of complaining about the bees that would sometimes drown in our honey right before we were about the dip the challah in it, or anything that didn’t go as planned.
Together, we sat in the sukkah and felt so grateful for being together. Despite the cold wind that blew, my soul was warm with joy. Holidays represented togetherness and family, and there is no greater delight then that.
Fast forward 25 years later, and I now have the privilege of sitting in my own sukkah in northern Israel. This year, on the first day of Sukkot, as I prayed the words of the traditional holiday prayer of Hallel (a compilation of joyous psalms), I lifted up my head and saw my beloved husband sitting on the floor of our sukkah, drinking tea and reading holiday stories to our three children on his lap. Our eldest daughter was looking at my husband, her eyes full of love, and our 5-year-old son was clinging to his chest. “Hodu L’Hashem Ki Tov – Praise God for He is good,” I sang with all of my heart.
As I closed my eyes, knew my children were feeling the same things that I felt many decades ago while building the sukkah with my father. They were feelings of safety, love, and completion that were instilled during these magical moments as a child – feelings that have stayed with me for a lifetime.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” These holiday celebrations as a child truly helped set the tone for the faith and love for God that I hold so deeply inside my heart. Faith is a hard thing to teach through words. That is why we have holidays.
With blessings from the Holy Land,