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In Jerusalem, Building a Sukkah No Longer a Back-breaking Affair

Building a sukkah in Israel used to be a back-breaking, all-day affair.

Not anymore.

While planks of wood were once the material of choice for constructing a family sukkah, more and more people are opting for the “prefab” models that many families abroad have enjoyed for years.

Made of reusable nylon or cotton sheeting and adjustable metal poles, the new sukkahs are a welcome change for those who love to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot but hate putting up the makeshift booths where meals are eaten.

On Agrippas Street, behind the Machaneh Yehudah food market, dozens of sukkah vendors had set up shop more than a week before the holiday, which begins Wednesday evening. Shoppers walked from booth to booth, haggling over the fabric that would make up the walls of their sukkah, as well as the poles and decorations.

As much a cultural event here as a religious holiday, the shoppers included everyone from secular Jews to the haredim, or fervently Orthodox.

“We don’t eat in the sukkah every day, as religious Jews do, but I wanted my children to feel a part of the holiday,” said Maya Cohen, who described herself as a Reform Jew.

“Wooden sukkahs are too much trouble to put up and store, so we didn’t have one in the past. But a friend told me how great these new prefab sukkahs are, so we decided to buy one this year,” she said.

An Orthodox man wearing a black hat and caftan also said he favored a light-weight sukkah.

“Every year it seems to get harder to put up our wooden sukkah. Maybe I’m just getting older,” he said with a laugh. “Also, our children are starting to marry, and the family is expanding, so the prefab sukkahs are much more versatile.”

Still, there are many who have no intention of abandoning their traditional wooden sukkahs, some of which have been passed down for generations.

“You see these paintings?” asked one middle-aged man in the Geulah section of the city, pointing to a colorful scene of a shtetl painted onto the inner wall of his sukkah.

“My father painted this from memory. His village was virtually destroyed during the Holocaust, and this is how it looked before the war.”

As long as there is Sukkot, he said, “my family will be using this sukkah.”

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