The days before Sukkot are busy for the Hamou-Tzafaty family of Silver Spring. They make their sukkah from scratch — no 2-by-4s stowed in the garage. In this extended family, the boys chop bamboo growing nearby. It takes about five hours to build the sukkah itself, says Diane Hamou-Tzarfaty. The girls decorate the hut and Hamou-Tzarfaty cooks.
Sukkot, which begins at sunset on Oct. 13, commemorates the Jews’ 40 years of wandering in the desert. The sukkah, a temporary hut, symbolizes the fragility of that wandering existence. It’s traditional to eat, sleep and study in the sukkah.
And it’s considered a mitzvah to invite others into the sukkah to celebrate the weeklong holiday of joy.
The family has been making their own sukkah for the past 18 years. It began when Betzalel Tzarfaty, Diane’s husband and a gardening enthusiast, thought it would be a good idea to use the bamboo growing in their yard for a sukkah.
Lots and lots of bamboo — about 30 poles of it. They use cloth for walls, string lights, fruit and other decorations. But Hamou-Tzarfaty says it’s the bamboo and the guests around their table that are most important. “It’s a labor of love,” she says.
The couple enjoys entertaining, so Sukkot seems tailor made for them. “I think [Sukkot] is my favorite holiday because of the entertaining,” Hamou-Tzarfaty says.
Their entertaining is so energetic that they sometimes need to make guest lists so there will be a spot around the table for everyone. The sukkah has space for 20. They invite neighbors who have no sukkah of their own. RSVPs are appreciated, but they won’t turn anyone away.
Hamou-Tzarfaty says they could just purchase a sukkah kit online and still have dozens of people over during the holidays, but it just wouldn’t be bamboo.
“I like the togetherness, to be able to sit outside, enjoy nature and having our cuisine every day and every night,” she says. “It makes us feel good to have people come over.”
One year, a non-Jewish friend and his family came to the sukkah. The couple spent the evening teaching him about the holiday, why Jews celebrate it and the traditions associated with it including shaking the lulav and etrog and singing songs.
“It was so much fun to sing and teach him and his family,”
The food is important, of course There’s a lot of couscous, soups and fall seasonal dishes. Even when there are no guests, the family tries to take their meals in the sukkah. If it’s raining or cold, they won’t. But if the weather is nice, they’ll keep the
sukkah up even after the holiday is over and continue eating their meals outside.
“We’re never in a rush to take it down,” she says.
Some years they spend part of the holiday in Israel with Betzalel Tzarfaty’s family. There they go sukkah hopping, spending time in the sukkot of his family spread across the
country. Some are in yards, others are on balconies.
But their home sukkah has the most meaning. And that meaning has deepened over the years.
“It has gotten a little more spiritual,” Hamou-Tzarfaty says. “The older we get, the more we appreciate what we have and being together with family. That is special to us also, just being able to be happy and thankful.”