Local Devotees Discuss How to Build a Better Sukkah


Jewish Philadelphians of all kinds are busy building their temporary holiday housing this week.

While there is no shortage of opportunities for Jews who want to spend time in a sukkah to do so at their synagogue, for those who love the holiday’s mitzvah of the three-sided structure, there is just no substitute for having one at home. Whether it’s a case of getting ready to build one for the first time, or looking forward to this year’s improvements to a personalized “Sukkah Dome” or “Urban Sukkah,” suburban residents and city-dwellers alike are primed for a week of al fresco living.
Karen Averill, who grew up in Havertown, did not have a sukkah as a child, but went to the sukkah at her shul, Suburban Jewish Community Center B’nai Aaron in Havertown. The holiday was never discussed in her home and she didn’t know anyone with a sukkah.
“I felt sukkah-deprived,” she said.
In the early 2000s, she and her husband, Les, went in a sukkah for the first time outside of a synagogue setting at the home of their friends, Michael and Anne Muderick, in Havertown. They instantly knew they had to build their own, she said.
“It’s just wonderful to be Jewish and celebrate together,” Averill exclaimed.
Averill, of Bala Cynwyd, who is a member of Temple Adath Israel in said that her family has built a sukkah annually for the past decade. She said it is their favorite holiday and they attempt to eat every meal in there except breakfast, when they are too rushed in the morning with work and school.
“The more you hang out in the sukkah, the more you get out of it,” Averill said. “We call it the ‘Sukkah Dome.’ ”
It takes her husband a couple of hours to build it. Now that their son Morey is 11, he and his friends help as well. After construction, she decorates the inside with dried fruit and art projects Morey does at school.
Sarah and Asher Kahn also put up a sukkah in their Bella Vista home. The Kahns, members of Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham Synagogue, built their first sukkah in 2009.
Sarah grew up in a religious home in Upper Dublin, where her parents, Sharon and Avishai Greis, slept in their sukkah. She has continued the tradition and involves her children, Tova, 4, and Tal, 7, a student at Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood, throughout the process. Asher uses wood, bamboo and bungee poles, while the women decorate the inside.
In 2006, Asher helped his stepfather, Lev Nelik, build one in Atlanta, where it was much easier to find branches than it is in Philly. After 10 years of building one, Asher said he has the mechanics down for building what he calls the “Urban Sukkah.”
“We sort of designed a way to do it that it was going to be the easiest way to get it up,” he said.
While he handles the construction, Sarah loves to cook and have people in the sukkah for almost every meal.
“I’m enjoying it so much more as a parent,” she said.
Eugene Desyatnik and his wife Marina Katsnelson, also of Bella Vista and B’nai Abraham, are building one for the first time. Both Desyatnik and his wife grew up in the Soviet Union, where they faced religious scrutiny and sukkot were forbidden.
The couple, who have been in Philadelphia for 11 years, became more attracted to Judaism when they went to B’nai Abraham for Simchas Torah and saw people dancing in the streets with Torahs.
At first, Desyatnik was going to buy a sukkah kit online — until he found out it cost about $600. Being somewhat handy, he purchased a DIY kit from the Sukkah Project, which offers affordable sukkahs in a variety of sizes and styles. It comes with a manual and a set of steel braces to assemble a reusable sukkah frame using standard-length 2×4 lumber, with prices ranging from $56 to $124.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge because I chose the hard way and not the easy way,” Desyatnik said.
He sought out advice from Rabbi Yochonon Goldman of B’nai Abraham, who told him to use Lauan plywood for the walls and a bamboo mat for the s’chach.
He said the harvest holidays of Passover and Sukkot mean more to his wife because she enjoys cooking and being with friends and family.
“There’s more of a physical connection of things to do in our home,” she said.
Although he is not sure who will help him build it, he said it should hopefully be finished in four or five hours. His children, Raphi, 3, and Isabella, 6, are looking forward to the holiday. Raphi is practicing nightly with his toy hammer, screwdriver, saw and toolbox set.
“He loves helping me with such work around the house, and tries to copy what I do,” Desyatnik said. “I hope it works out. I’d like to say that it’s going to be a success.”
Contact: jcohen@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0747.


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