…and Rusty Nails Reused


By S.A. Rowner


It was made of memories and miracles. And it was ingeniously expandable to any size it needed to be.


A feat of engineering, you might think. But certainly not according to the laws of physics.


Using those principles, the structure probably shouldn’t have stood at all. After all, it had no walls. Not in any definition of walls we think of anyways. It didn’t have a roof either, for that matter.


I know this because I spent quite a bit of time in it, as a child, teenager and adult. Truthfully, the only way we can attribute its integrity each year that it went up and stayed intact was to miracles. As a high school STEM teacher, I can attest to that.


I’m talking about my Zeide’s sukkah.


I’m not sure when he upgraded to his custom-built contraption, but my mother often told me that he used to build his temporary dwelling each year with an odd assortment of colorful doors – the home variety that open and close when hung on a frame with hinges and fastened to adjacent walls – which I can only imagine how he connected together to form the walls.


In my mind’s eye, I see flaking colored paint, wooden splinters, door knobs, assorted dangling ancient lock chains, and the odd glaring hole where a brass knob once proudly allowed entry somewhere. But having not actually seen that particular sukkah of his, let me not digress, and get back to the one I did..


At some point Zeide decided that his aforementioned Sukkos dwelling was due for an upgrade, and he actually procured eight matching wooden panels from somewhere. I suppose purchase, as they all matched, although when I first remember seeing them, they matched in their aged condition, and that must have been thirty five years ago.


So how does a sukkah without walls even qualify as a sukkah? And how could it stand, let alone hold a crowd? And what was entailed in my Zeide “building” it?


Here’s how he did it, to the best I can explain.


Taking two blank, bare sheets of ⅝” thin, four by eight plywood, with no frames, two by fours or any other means of stabilizers, bolts, screws or attachments, my Zeide somehow proceeded to nail the two corner edges together so that incredibly, it stood. How? Miracles.


My grandfather then proceeded to replicate his miracle-inducing handiwork for the other three corners as well, leaving a large gap between his four ‘corner’s.


Pieces of well-worn, repurposed string were then affixed between two of the largest gaps, with a blanket thrown over one to close the gap, and a curtain suspended from the second string, to serve as a door that opens or closes. The other two gaps were closed by simply throwing up some scrap lumber and nailing them against an already unsteady structure – if it could even be called that.


How did it not fall over when he precariously nailed those wood pieces in? Another one of the mysteries and the miracles, I guess.


Lastly, my Zeide throw a motley assortment of bent, rusty-nail-filled, ancient beams across the top of his walls, placed bamboo poles and his favorite schach of bulrush reeds which he would cut himself in Canarsie each year, all the way back since he was a kid in the 1930’s.


Voila. My Zeide’s Sukkah. I’m sure he was proud of it. We certainly were proud of him!


But that wasn’t even the biggest miracle.


Year after year, he would take down the sukkah. But he didn’t believe in taking out the old nails. I guess he just wrenched it apart and the angels holding it up simply let go.


The sukkah weathered each year against the wall of his house out in the elements of his Brooklyn backyard. And so the rust on the nails grew, as the board’s edges splintered to bits.


Only to be lovingly banged back together again the following year, and again wrenched apart as the process repeated itself year after year.


How it stood from the beginning was the smaller miracle. How it went up year after year as it deteriorated further and further for so many years was the big miracle.


And oh, the memories that were made in that sukkah! The songs sung by generations of descendants – children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. What was a yom tov without a visit to Zeide and Bobby?


In 2007, I had a feeling that it was becoming harder and harder for my Zeide to put up his miraculous sukkah, and a premonition gripped me, to take pictures of it for posterity.


I turned out to be correct, as it was the last year the miraculous Sukkah went up before a commercially made small canvas one took its place of glory next year.


And while the malachim holding up the Sukkah aren’t visible in the pictures, the viewer does experience just a little taste of our special Zaide and Bobby, their Sukkah, and the miracles we merited to see with our own eyes.


Today, with kosher vacation home rentals, great family memories can be made without resorting to such miracles and effort. Luxurious kosher homes, vacation villas and even large kosher family reunion-sized rental properties in Lakewood, simcha-sized kosher vacation mansion in Monsey, Airmont and the surrounding areas, stand waiting and ready for you to bring the whole family together!

And for Sukkos, it comes with a beautiful Sukkah and makes for great family memories… no rusty nails, repurposed doors or splinters included.