Come the holiday of Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, we would make one sike for all
the families that shared our courtyard. The sike is a temporary
booth that commemorates the temporary dwellings that the Israelites made
in the desert when they left Egypt. We built our sike with boards.
We only had to construct two sides, because we tucked the sike into
a corner of the courtyard between the wooden wall of our vestibule and the
masonry wall of our dwelling. The peasants, who referred to the sike
as kuczka, brought the pine or fir boughs to market just before the
holiday. We would put these boughs on top of the sike so that we
could see the sky through the roof of the sike, as is required. My
friend Maylekh had a fancy sike with a cover that they could lower
when it rained.
We decorated our sike
with birds that we made from empty eggshells. We made a hole at each end
of the egg and blew out the white and the yolk. We fashioned a bird's head
from a little piece of moistened challah; we made the wings by pleating a
special kind of paper that was brightly colored and shiny on the
underside. As the candles on the table burned, the heat from the flames
circulated the air and the birds would turn around. We hung up apples,
gourds, and paper chains that we had made from colored paper. we also
strung chestnuts and hung long strands of them in the sike. We put
a big Star of David and a little piece of carpet on the wall, anything to
decorate the sike and make it festive. You had to watch out,
because people used to come and steal the decorations. They would take
anything of value left inside the sike at night.
During Succoth, which lasts
seven days, you're supposed to eat your meals in the sike. Succoth
falls in late September or early October; by then, the evenings were
getting quite chilly. Our family ate only supper in the sike and
only on the first two days of the holiday and on Friday evening. The
Orthodox Jews in your courtyard ate in the sike more often. With so
many families, we had to eat in shifts. Our kitchen window opened directly
into the sike. This was handy; Mother could just open our kitchen
window and serve the food directly into the sike. I remember that
Moyre Simkhe would yell up to his wife, who was upstairs, to bring the
tsimes: "Tobe, Tobe! Farges nisht dus teykhesl!" (Tobe, Tobe!
Don't forget the little arse!) The tail of the chicken, which is nice and
fat, was his favorite part. She would add it to the tsimes, a sweet
stew made of carrots, apples, prunes, and pieces of fat. We would laugh
because of the double meaning.
Succoth in the Sike,
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 20 in.