Breakfast In The Sukkah
By Mimi from The Israeli Kitchen
When I was small, my father would build a sukkah the old-fashioned way. Standing in the back yard, he’d knock wooden boards together for walls and tie green branches over the roof poles. We kids would decorate the walls with drawings, and hang apples, oranges, and when we could get one, a pomegranate, in the corners. (The trick was to get fruit with a stem you could tie string to.)
Joyfully, I would sniff familiar smells I’d forgotten since last year: wooden boards that had gotten musky from being stored in the garage; the fresh, pungent odor of forest branches overhead. I’d stand still briefly to enjoy sunlight dappling in through them. My Dad took the rule about being able to glimpse the stars through the roof seriously, and come night time in the sukkah, we did. During our festive night meal, Dad would tell us about the Ushpizin – the seven forefathers we invite to visit every night of the festival, and we small fry would shiver delightedly, half afraid and half in fun, as when he’d tell us fairy tales.
Nowadays [in Israel] our sukkah is a simple pre-fab crowded onto a tiny balcony. It has easily-set-up cloth walls with a standard printed design and sustains a plain bamboo roof. The Little One strings up some ordinary gaudy tinsel strings, one fat tinsel pineapple. No one excitedly draws hand-made decorations anymore – neither Husband nor I have artistic talent, and the small children are now all grown up.
But the charm is still there. Sunlight brightens the printed cloth curtains and our table, making them brilliant. An autumnal breeze flaps at the gaps between the fabric, refreshing us as we sit. And we sit at our leisure, eating breakfast together.
Every workday morning, I wish there were time for everyone to eat breakfast. Husband and the Little One say they can’t manage to eat anything when they first get up. I think it’s the tension that starts the minute they open their eyes, contracting their stomachs so that breakfast seems like a trial, not a meal. Working from home, I sit down alone at about 9:00 to my toast and poached egg, eating quickly to get on with my day.
But during Sukkot week, I go to my kitchen and prepare a morning feast.
A basket full of warm, toasted challah. Home-made cream cheese. Strawberry jam. Cantaloup chunks in a glass dish. A platter of local hard cheeses. And because we’re Israeli, vegetables: slow-roasted tomatoes, a plate of sliced cucumbers, yellow bell peppers, and black olives. Scrambled eggs. Honey cake. Turkish coffee the way I like it at breakfast: a big mug of it, with sweetener and milk, grounds on the bottom. Hot chocolate for the Little One.
(No photos of breakfast this time. I didn’t want to break the quiet with my usual leaping around the table, snapping pictures of the food while my family waits for me to finish. They don’t complain – anymore, but I know they could live without all that.)
We mostly eat in silence, except to say things like, “More eggs?” or “Pass the toast, please.” Husband is still coming down in his head from morning prayers, the Little One is recovering from her late night with friends, and I’m content to just sit and plan ahead a little. I look around the little space and notice shadows of my potted plants, which I pushed into a corner outside the sukkah, on the wall curtains.
My gaze travels from the smooth hair of my youngest child, who’s head down and seriously tucking in, to the table spread with tasty things, to my good husband thoughtfully reaching for a slice of toast.
Now, my grandchildren are older than I was when I played in Dad’s wooden sukkah, and Dad himself is gone. But now, I look forward to the Ushpizin’s nightly supernatural visit in peace. For if our holy forefathers fill the sukkah with grace at night, grace and holiness fill the sukkah while we eat breakfast. It just took time to realize it.
Maybe the Ushpizin will come around to sukkot in the morning, too.