A Sukkah With Soul

A St. Louis architect has created a sukkah that is beautiful inside and out.

A few years ago, Susan Shender of St. Louis and several of her friends studying in the Melton Adult Jewish Education program were assigned to research Kohelet, also known as the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Among the things they discovered is that the book is traditionally read during Sukkot. One of the women had an old sukkah kit stashed in her garage, so they decided to assemble it for the holiday and to gather within its walls to learn Kohelet together.

While sitting in the sukkah, Shender, an architect who has designed community health centers, university projects and a bird garden at the St. Louis Zoo, began to examine the structure. She decided she could design a better one.

“I thought it was a great problem to research. I wanted to come up with something that was meaningful, as well as easy to assemble and store,” says Shender.

One of the things she learned from her studies is the obligation of hiddur mitzvah—to beautify the commandment. That knowledge inspired her. “I wanted the sukkah I designed to be beautiful from inside looking out and outside looking in.”

SukkahSoul is the result of her efforts. Crafted of cedar and white polyethylene netting, this prefab sukkah is aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound. The design is also mystically evocative: Shender uses triangles in her design, bringing to mind the pattern of the Sefirot, the Kabbalistic plan for understanding the manifestations of God. These manifestations—among them kindness, strength and beauty—correspond to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the other mystical guests welcomed to the sukkah each night during the holiday.

Customers hail from all movements of Judaism as well as the ranks of the unaffiliated and include first-time sukkah owners and those replacing a sukkah. Many have written to Shender to express their enthusiasm about the sukkah’s simplicity and beauty, its ease of assembly, and the clear instructions Shender provides.

“My wife and I felt it was one of those holy spiritual experiences putting the sukkah together,” wrote a customer from New Jersey. “We had an open house, and everyone marveled at its beautiful design.”

The sukkah is available in three sizes: a standard, 8-foot-square sukkah, enough for seating six to eight people ($675); mid-size, which seats up to 12 ($975); and large, which seats up to 18 ($1,275). The kit arrives partially assembled and is easy to erect. Detailed instructions, ideas for decorating and sukkah prayers are included. At the holiday’s end, the kit breaks down for easy storage. To learn more, visit the SukkahSoul website or call 314-610-2560.

Jewish Woman magazine
by Susan Tomchin
September 2011