The kids, some of whom were babies when it all
began, are grown now. But the tradition continues.
Come the Friday during Sukkot, a group of families from Dresher, Fort Washington and nearby communities will assemble for the annual Dresher Sukkah “Hop.”
They’ll meet inside the sukkah of one house for Kiddush, for the motzi and to light Shabbat candles. Then it’s off to the sukkah at the next house for soup. That’s followed by dinner in the sukkah of a third house, before wrapping up at a fourth sukkah with dessert. And between courses they might sneak in a quick stopover or two at other neighborhood sukkahs.
Through the years, which stretch back to the late 1980s, the memories of those nights have only grown fonder.
“My daughter Rebecca, who was then about 8 and is now 26 — that’s the thing she remembers best,” Linda Roth said. “Her fondest memory is heading off for the Sukkah Hop. It’s been a great, fun way to really add meaning to the holiday and bring families together.”
For many of those families, the next generation is now participating.
“Last year, my grandchildren came for the first time,” said Nancy Fagan, who’ll be serving soup in her sukkah. “It was really exciting, since they came at the last minute. It was nice seeing another generation there.”
Back when it started, it was simply a unique way for couples — and their little ones — to get together.
“I never could’ve imagined it would last this long,” said David Schachter, whose wife, Debbie, is the unofficial Sukkah Hop organizer, although they’ll miss this year’s event to be with their daughter and grandson in Florida. “People move and interests change over time. Now some of the babies at that time are married and have children, so grandchildren are coming. It’s just a very special night for everybody, and it’s only rained two of those years where we had to go inside. Just a wonderful type of camaraderie.”
By no means is the Dresher Sukkah Hop the only local celebration of the holiday.
Members of Congregation Beth Solomon in Northeast Philadelphia have a community sukkah building, where they’ll go from house to house helping put up the structures in the days before Sukkot. They also used to have their own tradition where the children would go from sukkah to sukkah, with cookies and candy waiting for them.
“It’s a very special holiday,” Beth Solomon Rabbi Akiva Pollack said, “because after Yom Kippur and before Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret you’re coming back to God through happiness. You’re serious on Yom Kippur and the exact opposite on Sukkot.”
Other synagogues, likewise, have their own events in a sukkah; Chabad-Lubavitch of the Greater Philadelphia Region, for instance, is hosting its 13th annual Simchas Beis Ha’shoeva event — the name refers to the daily Sukkot celebration dating back to Temple times — the evening of Oct. 8 in front of the Lubavitch Center of Northeast Philadelphia.
In Dresher, “everybody helps,” said Schachter, who’s served as the High Holiday cantor at Congregation Hesed Shel Emet in Pottstown since 1989. “Most of the work is done by the person hosting the entree.
“But it’s hard to make eight chickens, so people come with side dishes and sometimes we’ll have more than one kind of soup. But it’s all coordinated.”
The coordination, too, has changed since the time Debbie Schachter and a few of the other women hatched their idea during Rosh Hashanah services at Temple Sinai.
Nobody was using email back then and cellphones were a rarity. Information literally had to be passed word of mouth — either in person or over the phone.
But a good idea is a good idea. And this one seemed a natural.
“I remember sitting with Debbie in synagogue and my husband, Bruce, was telling her about how when we lived in Bensalem we used to do a sukkah hop,” recalled Fagan, who directs the child welfare program at Jewish Family and Children’s Service, where JFCS president Paula Goldstein and her husband, Cliff, were among the original Dresher Sukkah Hop families. “We literally put it together that day.
“It’s an evening we all love to put aside. When we first started, we had to go to every sukkah or else the kids would get upset. Sometimes we’d just go to a sukkah and not eat anything, so it wound up running pretty late.
“Now even people who don’t build sukkahs still come. The idea of going to multiple sukkahs makes it different than if you were just going to one person’s house for Friday night dinner. It’s an event everybody looks forward to.”
And like most traditions one that’s only grown and become more meaningful through the years.