And perhaps there's no holiday on the Jewish calendar that better lends itself to creative manual labor -- for kids and adults alike -- than Sukkot, which comes this year on Sunday night, Oct. 4, and extends through Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Jews around the world observe the biblical fall harvest festival, which commemorates Israel's sojourning in the desert, by spending a week eating in -- or even living in -- huts with vegetation as a roof. In addition, four species of plant -- palm, myrtle and willow branches, and the citron, or etrog -- are used in synagogue and home rituals.
The holiday is often a time when families and friends gather to build and then enjoy the sukkah, sharing meals and parties in the highly creative and individualized structures.
Here are the stories of a congregation and a family who took the opportunity to invest themselves physically and spiritually in the fall festival that ends the month-long High Holiday cycle.
It May Be Small, But It's Kosher
Like many, Esther and Avraham Brander designed and built their own sukkah, decorated it and invited friends over to share in the holiday.
What makes their sukkah unique is that it is 5 feet high, and Esther is 7 years old and Avraham is 8.
The brother and sister, with help from their 4-year-old brother, Yaakov, used 3/4-inch plastic pipes with connectors for the frame, and fabric for the walls.
"They get very excited about things that are their own," says their mother, Batyah Brander, assistant English principal of Ohr Haemet, a girls high school on Robertson Boulevard, and wife of Asher Brander, rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla.
Batyah helped the children puzzle the pieces together and secure the connectors to make sure the structure was steady. She estimates that the youngsters, who attend Toras Emes day school on La Brea Avenue, did 80 percent of the work on their own.
They also chose a kosher spot in the yard, where no trees hang over the 4 1/2-x-10-foot structure -- and where the sukkah is out of sight of the family's full-size sukkah.
Esther and Avraham are accustomed to these types of projects. They make their own challah and recently started making grape juice, stomping on the fruit (through plastic bags) and bottling it with their own labels.
"I never have to yell at them to come to the table for kiddush, because it's their own grape juice," Brander says. And on sukkah-building day, they got their homework done in a flash.
"They learned a lot more than if we just built it ourselves and let them sit in it," Brander says.
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