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Come Rain or Corona, B’nei Menashe Built Their Sukkahs

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

(October 1) In Israel, Manipur, and Mizoram, B’nei Menashe built their sukkahs in the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, undeterred by Covid-19 or predictions of rainy weather in India.

In Israel, where sukkahs are rarely built from scratch and make use of prior or prefabricated structures and materials, the B’nei Menashe have joined the general trend. Yoel Misao and his family in the southern village of Nitzan, for example, have built an attractive, typically Israeli sukkah beneath the pergola on their front terrace. Its walls are of fabric bearing a floral-and-pomegranate design with holiday posters and cutouts of birds and leaves strung between them. The Misaos’ Sukkot meals will be smaller than usual this year, due to the pandemic. In the past, Yoel says, his sukkah hosted many guests, but this holiday will see only himself, and his wife, children, and mother.

Yoel Misao’s sukkah in Nitzan.

Dolev and Shani Hauhnar, originally from Mizoram and now residents of the town of Bet-El in Samaria, have made use of a pergola, too, wrapping a plastic sheet around it and covering it with palm fronds. They, too, they say, would have liked to invite more people to their holiday meals but plan to be alone with their four children, aged 2 to 12.

The Hauhnars’ sukkah in Bet-El.

In India, on the other hand, traditional building methods still prevail. These generally call, first, for erecting a frame of bamboo poles cut in the jungle, such as can be seen in the photograph of a sukkah belonging to Shlomo Haokip of Churachandpur and taken while still under construction. (The wash hung out to dry will presumably vanish by the first night of the holiday). Shlomo’s sukkah is big enough for the 17 people he plans to host in it, comprising his wife and children, his parents, and his two brothers with their families. Covid-19, he says, doesn’t worry them. They all live close to one another, mingle mostly among themselves, and haven’t gone far from home during the Corona lockdown.

Shlomo Haokip’s sukkah under construction.

Once the frame has been finished, the walls are then attached. Pinchas Singson and his wife have used the sun-dried stalks of a wild grass called phoi for their sukkah in Churachandpur (below left.) In the village of Peijang, a communal sukkah has walls of the large-leaved branches of a jungle tree (below right).

Pinchas Singson finishes the wall of his sukkah.
Ya’akov Haokip works on a sukkah wall in Peijang.

As for what is known in Hebrew as the s’khakh, the see-through thatch of a sukkah’s roof, whatever comes to hand is used, too. Nechemiah Lhouvum and his family, inhabitants of the village of Tuibong, have used the branches of a long-needled pine tree. Elisheva Khiangte of Mizoram’s capital city of Aizawl, on the other hand, has roofed her sukkah with palm fronds. It also has a roof for a floor, being built on top of her city apartment.

Nechemiah’s wife and children outside their pine-roofed sukkah.

Elisheva Khiangte’s rooftop sukkah in Aizawl.

Apart from the standard sukkot, there are some truly original ones. Michael Kipgen of the Manipuri village of Gamgiphai has built one of these. Its unusual arched entrance is made out of beeng, the flexible stalks of which are commonly used for rattan furniture. Asked what inspired him to create it, Michael replied, “I just got carried away.”

The beeng entrance of Michael Kipgen’s sukkah

Since the decorative fruit commonly hung in a sukkah is usually a final touch, put in place at the last moment to prevent its decay before the week-long holiday is over, we were not sent many photographs that show it. Here, however, is one from Peijang. Besides grapefruits, one sees in it clusters of short, stubby local bananas and a pair of local sour pomegranates that never turn more than faintly red even when ripe.

And if it rains? “That won’t bother us,” says Ohaliav Haokip, Degel Menashe’s Manipur representative. “It won’t be the steady downpour of the heavy monsoon rains. If it comes, we’ll take cover in our homes and return to our sukkahs as soon as it’s over to finish our meal.”

It’s almost time to sit down to ours. A happy holiday to one and all!

Peijang villagers in their sukkah.



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