You might think it’s 2011, but in the Jewish world, it’s 5772. You might think to say Happy New Year when the crystal ball drops in Times Square on midnight of December 31, but in the Jewish world it’s the New Year at Rosh Hashana, usually sometime in mid-September. Soon after this autumnal holiday, for the past couple thousand of years or so, the People of the Book have been commanded to celebrate the holiday of Succot by living – or at least eating – in temporary housing for eight days. This makeshift house is called a Succah, and when built according to tradition, has at least three non-permanent walls and a roof through which you can see the stars at night. Hospitality is an important part of the tradition as well, so, rain or shine, there are lots of well-attended, festive meals held in the Succah.
In the days of Moses when this Biblical commandment was drafted into law, finding a place to build your Succah was probably not difficult. Fast forward a few thousand years to New York City high-rise living, and where to put your Succah becomes a logistical urban challenge.
Park Avenue Synagogue has solved this holy conundrum by LOOKING UP. For the past many years, they have built their delightful Succah, which seats about 100 comfortably, on the sixth floor synagogue rooftop. This year, they went so far as to hire a trendy floral designer, Flowers by Sunny, to fashion a more professional temporary dwelling for the well-heeled Upper East Side congregants to fulfill their Biblical commandment of eating in the Succah. Instead of using the traditional palm fronds for the roofing material, Sonny used juniper with the occasional palm frond for decoration. He fashioned Stars of David out of cinnamon sticks tied together with twine that hang from the ceiling along with strings of artificial fruits, making you feel more like you’re on a tropical island rather than the Island of Manhattan. The structure’s support poles are wrapped in green, sparkling netting and the children’s laminated art work decorates the walls, making the Succah an outdoor art gallery of New York’s future artists – and industrialists – this is the Upper East Side, after all!
In the Jewish world, living is synonymous with eating, and eat in the Succah they do! There are so many groups within the thriving Park Avenue Synagogue community of 1500 families that the Succah could use her own social secretary. It is in constant use for the eight days of the holiday by the men who pray there early in the morning and by the preschoolers and after-schoolers who learn Jewish traditions at the Synagogue schools. The seniors meet in the Succah, the singles have a mixer there and the young couples schmooze in the roof Succah as well. There are almost nightly synagogue community dinners held in this well-used and well-loved temporary home on the rooftop.
It all ends this weekend, at the closure of the month-long Jewish New Year festivities, but if you want to fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of eating in a Succah in 5773, call the Park Avenue Synagogue and reserve yourself a spot for one of their community rooftop Succah meals. And then pray for clear skies!