By David Yonke, The Blade
During the seven-day holiday of Sukkot, or Festival of Booths, that began Tuesday, Jews build outdoor shelters to remind them of how the ancient Israelites lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years.
But while the purpose is to recall events that took place thousands of years ago, modern technology has made the task of building shelters, called sukkahs, somewhat easier.
Ed Motley, 44, of Sylvania, who has become increasingly devoted to studying and practicing Judaism, decided to build a sukkah this year for the first time in his life.
So he turned on the computer, searched the Internet, and found what he needed.
“I just went to sukkah.com and clicked to order,” he said. “The sukkah was here three or four days later.”
The prefab unit that he and his wife and three sons set up on the side of their house in St. James Woods measures six-foot-by-eight-foot and stands seven feet high. Its fabric walls and steel frame are assembled like a tent. Prices range from $379 for a 4-by-6 snap sukkah to $1,799 for a 12-by-28 canvas one.
In accordance with Jewish customs, the sukkah has an open roof that Mr. Motley covered with a roll of bamboo strips.
“So far it’s been pretty comfortable,” Mr. Motley said, although raindrops were slipping through the bamboo strips overhead as he showed it to a reporter on Wednesday.
Some sukkahs built for large Jewish communities are big enough to fit more than 100 people, but many are just big enough for a table and a few chairs.
“Mine is a little too small for sleeping. But we have our meals in the sukkah,” Mr. Motley said.
The Motley family decorated the booth with gourds and ears of corn hanging from the rafters and poles, celebrating the harvest season – another focus of the Sukkot holiday. A flashlight hangs from one pole.
Mr. Motley demonstrated the ancient ritual of shaking the lulav, saying a prayer as he shook it in three directions and then upward. A lulav is a sword-shaped item made of palm, willow, and myrtle branches bound together, held in the right hand while a yellow, lemon-like fruit called an etrog is held in the left hand.
Mr. Motley said he enjoys spending time in the sukkah reading, praying, and meditating.
“I was in the sukkah this morning having a quiet breakfast early,” he said, “and the wind was blowing and nobody was talking. I was thinking what it would have been like wandering in the desert and having God’s presence manifested on a daily basis.”
Sukkot is a joyous holiday in which friends share meals and drink wine or other alcohol with a hearty toast of “L’Chaim” (Hebrew for “To Life”).
Mr. Motley, a financial planner, is a Toledo native who moved to Los Angeles and missed Toledo so much he moved his family back here in March.
While in California, he said he met a rabbi from a local Chabad House who renewed his interest in observing Jewish rules and customs.
After moving to Toledo, he began studying with Rabbi Yossi Shemtov of Chabad House-Lubavitch, which seeks to educate and inspire all Jews. Many Jews affiliated with different Jewish movements and synagogues participate in Chabad House activities.
“Chabad is just a wonderful organization around the world. It’s ‘Come as you are.’ Everyone is welcome,” Mr. Motley said. “And they provide an opportunity for you to learn and grow. Our lives today are very, very different, and all for the better because of our relationship with Chabad.”
Sukkot services are held throughout the holiday at the three Toledo-area synagogues, Etz Chayim on Woodley Road, an Orthodox congregation, and Conservative congregation B’nai Israel and Reform congregation Temple Shomer Emunim, both on Sylvania Avenue in Sylvania.
For people who are unable to set up their own sukkahs, Rabbi Shemtov’s sons, Mushka and Bentzion, are driving a portable “Sukkahmobile” around town, stopping at nursing homes and neighborhoods.
“Even if one Jew needs a sukkah, we want to be able to bring it to him,” Bentzion Shemtov said.