Thursday, September 23, 2010

Build It and They Will Come

“Build it, Dad,” my sister begged.

“And they will come!” I chimed in.

Although my family was not particularly religious, nor had we ever celebrated the festive Jewish holiday of Sukkot, my twenty year old sister, home from college for the weekend, decided she absolutely needed a sukkah in our backyard.

If you have no idea what a "sukkah" is, you are in the exact same boat as my dad when my sister pleaded, "Come on, Dad, build one. I've always wanted my own sukkah."

"Really, doll? You have?"

My dad totally took the bait.

We explained to him that a sukkah is a temporary hut for use during the week-long holiday of Sukkot. It is a structure consisting of a roof made of organic material which has been disconnected from the ground. A sukkah is usually constructed outside a synagogue, where congregants gather to hang fruit as an offering of peace and hope.

Did we really know the history and religious significance of a sukkah on the day that we pestered my dad relentlessly? No way.

We simply felt that the construction of a sukkah was a good dare for my dad.

And, because erecting a sukkah seemed much more reasonable than the usual requests my sister made, like a white BMW 5-series, and much less controversial than the purchases she made on her own, like the $600 worth of lingerie from Victoria’s Secret (which appeared mysteriously on my parents’ Am X statement), my dad agreed.

Yes, a sukkah seemed reasonable.

Just one problem. My dad had no clue how to build a sukkah. In all seriousness, he had no clue how to build. Period.

But, if he's a genius in one area, that area is the garden. He is a wizard with wildflowers, plants, trees, garden sculptures, fountains, Buddah ladies, Native American chief carvings, what have you. A landscape architect extraordinaire in his prior life, no doubt.

But this sukkah was a whole different animal.

After all, my dad had grown up in a large Irish Catholic family. His early years were chock full of nuns, rosaries, and sins. He preferred the gospel of Bob Dylan to that of Jesus Christ. And, when he fell for a nice Jewish girl he met in school, the decision to convert was an easy one.

But he converted in his unique way.

He didn't abandon Dylan, he simply incorporated him into traditional Jewish festivities. At my Bat Mitzvah, he convinced the cantor to learn and perform an unforgettable spine-tingling version of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young."

He learned Yiddish expressions from my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-aunts and even considered starting his own newspaper column, "The Tsatskeleh Sightings."

He loved to dance the Hora at every wedding and often requested to the bandleaders that they rock out to “Chavah Nagilah” “reggae-style.” (Whatever that means. I'm sure only he knows).

So, really, this sukkah dare was right up his alley. It was just off-beat enough for my dad to really dig in deep and go all out.

It was a crisp fall day. He threw on his dark black aviator shades, hopped into his convertible, and sped off solo to find the makings of a sukkah. Within a half hour, he pulled into our circular driveway covered in chicken wire, hay, palm leaves, bamboo sticks, and other foliage which nearly concealed his face behind the wheel. He had bags full of fresh, dried and plastic fruit, customary decorations for the sukkah.

My mom squealed, looking out the 2nd floor window, "Daddy's back! Look outside!"

It was on.

What happened next was breathtaking. My dad single-handedly built the most fabulous sukkah our neighborhood had ever seen. (Not to mention the only one it had ever seen!).

He built it and, just like I had predicted, oh did they come! In droves. Reclusive neighbors, small children, babies in strollers, poofy haired dogs with big butts. Everyone wanted a peek.

Our backyard became a Jewish version of Christmas-time at the mall. Instead of sitting on Santa’s lap, each visitor insisted on having their photo taken standing inside the sukkah.

Years later, friends and family still reminsce about the building of the sukkah. It has taken on a mythical quality, like the building of the pyramids or the Great Wall of China.

It was one man, one vision, and the gathering of one community.

Although my dad was a late bloomer to the Jewish faith, never had a Bar Mitzvah, and may not be able to identify one Hebrew letter, I believe that anyone who builds his own backyard sukkah simply to see his daughters smile surely has some serious soul.

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