The first two holiday days of Sukkot 5776 / 2015 at Shabbos House were very beautiful and memorable. We’ll try to capture some of it here.

It all starts with the SUKKAH BUILDING BBQ. Special thanks to a small crew from AEPI who came early and got all the boards and bamboo mats up from the basement (not as easy as it sounds) and along with a two or three Shabbos House regulars got all the boards in their proper spots (some go in easier than others). They even got the mats up and laid out even before the Sukkah Building BBQ was scheduled to begin! #firstworldproblems! But there was still plenty to do, getting all the green Schach up to fill the mat gaps, stringing the lights – which takes quite a bit of time. Plus we didn baking and holiday food prep. Getting the Sukkah up earlier this year was a special blessing, since we had to spend a few days, first in the ER and then in the Hospital with one of the kids who got an infection which cleared up thank G-d and thanks antibiotics before Sukkot. It was hectic and a little stressful, but thankfully all healthy now! So a timely and early Sukkah building was a blessing.

There’s often a nice story behind our getting the Schach, this year a load of luscious green Schach arrived just before Yom-Kippur with this story.

Thanks to the Lchaim Board students for several mega shopping trips (with SA funding) to Kosher Price Chopper in Colonie, and along with other students helping Raizy with lots of cooking and baking. Sukkot holiday meals is a big undertaking with lots of variety and effort.

The FIRST NIGHT IN THE SUKKAH was gorgeous! Not packed like a Friday Night, but the Sukkah was quite full, many people came out. The atmosphere was special, we sang the Sukkahleh song and it was so special to hear it resounding in the Sukkah, in Yiddish, too! There were many freshmen in the Sukkah, too, this holiday is often a time when the new class gels together. The first night was sponsored in honor of a 13th anniversary by two alumni couples.

Speaking of alumni, we had an alumni family for the first days of the holiday, Rachel (’00) and Yehudah with their three sweet little girls who played almost the holiday with our little girls. They brought two big boxes of nosh variety which students enjoyed as well. We had some good chats over breakfast in the Sukkah and some other quiet times in between prayers and meals and students dropping in. Rachel remembers our first Sukkot at UAlbany, and now its our 19th!

That first night was the highly touted supermoon blood-moon lunar eclipse. Our schach cover might have been too thick to see it from inside the Sukkah (though you can get a glimpse here and there depending on where you sat), but there was a splendid view from our ramp looking east up in the clear sky. We went out there after the meal and it was quite something to behold. We discussed the Talmud Sukkah on such heavenly sights and omens, as well as the spectacle of seeing the moon going through an entire months cycle – and back – in such a short span, before our eyes.

DAYTIME HOLIDAY MINYANS on weekdays can be tight because of class schedules and other student obligations. We call it a revolving door Minyan, students come and go, overlapping and replacing each other according to their schedules. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, we did OK with the Minyan this year: A family from Maryland was in town for the funeral of their grandfather on the eve of Sukkot and couldn’t get back home in time of the holiday. They stayed at a nearby hotel and joined for meals and prayers, two extra for the Minyan helped a lot. Amazingly, despite their personal recent loss and grief they were positive sweet people who very much appreciated spending the holiday with us. See this story we shared about Sukkah de Vivre – a Sukkah of Life! 

Professor Herman prayed with us both morning, and did his Sephardic poetry for the Hoshanot, after we did the circuit outdoors all around the house. He shared with us a beautiful anecdote about a postcard hawker in Rome, which we shared along with another story he shared years back – see this post on Willow Jews – stories from Curacao and Rome.

There’s a tradition that “Ushpizin” (spiritual guests) visit our Sukkot each night. On the SECOND NIGHT OF SUKKOT we had the honor and surprising pleasure of having the Massry’s visit our Sukkah! They met each of our students, students came over to chat, it was really a very special evening. That night, quite appropriately, we shared the story from Berditchev about the man with the Etrog who was unwelcome in anyone’s Sukkah along with a vivid memory of a reassuring conversation with Mr. Massry from Route 9 near Bennington Vermont (as we were enroute to a a student sitting shiva in New Hampshire) about the Rohr naming of our new center. Another highlight that night was the lively and raucous “Duck, Duck, Goose” game of students and kids indoors after the meal.

After the meal on the second night, we took in all the benches, because rain was coming. Indeed it rained on Monday night, but cleared up for us to have a deliciously different lunch in the Sukkah on Tuesday, with the drizzle starting only when dessert came out. The amazing thing was that students lingered in the Sukkah despite the droplets! Chabadniks in training! Another testament to students was how many came by all afternoon, before and after classes, to get lunch in the Sukkah and to shake the Lulav and Etrog.

The food was delicious, every meal was different. The pepper steak with rice and stir fry on the first night; salmon, sushi and soup on the first day lunch; breaded chicken, kugel on night #2; pasta and potato knishes, sweet potato pies and soup on day #2. We didn’t do the food-themes this year, and not everything started with S, but there were plenty of accompanying salads and dips and sides, and desserts of course. It was plentiful, but remarkably – little leftovers!

It was a beautiful first days of the Sukkot holiday. Thanks so much to all the students who participated and made it so special, who filled the Sukkah with the best decoration possible: happy faces! Thanks to all who got the Sukkah up, who helped cook and prepare, who cleaned up after each meal, who sang the Sukkahleh song with gusto, who lingered and enjoyed.