Another letter from my Mixed and Matched column
Dear Dawn: My friends and family agree with you that the High Holy Days were not the right time to introduce my boyfriend to Judaism. So when is the right time? I don’t want to scare him, but being Jewish is very important to me. I am hoping that he will come to really love it, too, because I think he’s the one. He loves the outdoors. He isn’t into cooking as much as grilling. He has a very sweet dog that he treats very well. He’s a caring guy. We’ve been together for about six months and I’d like to start introducing him to Judaism. What do you suggest I do first? Or even second? — In Love
Dear In Love: What a delightful message to receive. You couldn’t have timed this better because Oct. 4-11 is the wonderful outdoor Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
Tradition says that we are to build a sukkah and then live in it for a week. If your boyfriend enjoys making things — does he already own things like a saw, hammer and electric drill? — then you could consider making a sukkah together. It is “just” a three-walled hut with a partial roof. Many years ago, I got directions for construction from a woman at my shul, and my husband, who loves building, happily made us our first sukkah.
If you’re not ready for that, consider buying a kit online. No, it will not be cheap. Think of it like a Christmas tree; it’s at the center of the holiday, gets decorated and (good news) can be taken down and saved for next year. So the cost is one time, unlike a Christmas tree (well, the nonplastic kind, anyway). In recent years, I’ve assembled the kit and it’s pretty simple. Since I live where there’s a significant evening breeze, my husband bolts the sukkah frame to the ground. Yes, my sukkah has completely toppled over! We just put it back, and since then it has been bolted.
Have meals in the sukkah. Sleep in the sukkah; his dog will love it. Or just sit together in the sukkah and watch nature around you — butterflies, bees, birds. It’s better than meditating.
If the thought of building a sukkah is too much for you, then consider using the other parts of the holiday to delight your boyfriend.
This is a harvest festival. Make luscious meals all week; have your boyfriend do some grilling. Invite friends over. Eat outside. Tell your boyfriend the story and the symbolism of the holiday so that he can appreciate our funny little huts as much as any other holiday paraphernalia.
This is a great time to also make Sukkot more fun for you and your extended family. Did you know that the traditional foods of Sukkot (Askenazi or Sephardic) are stuffed foods? That could be zucchini, pumpkins, peppers, grape leaves or other things. You can stuff them with meat, rice, quinoa, textured vegetable protein. Think about what the two of you really love and invent your own special Sukkot dish. It can be the beginning of your own tradition.
Do you have a friend who has a sukkah? Or do you belong to a synagogue that has one? See if you can get over to someone else’s sukkah. If you are going to be a guest: Make a decoration to hang in the sukkah, be it temporary (like a paper chain) or permanent (like a decorative lantern); bring along a fruit-stuffed pie; bring some branches to add to the roof.
After Sukkot, there will be a quiet stretch in the Jewish calendar, but there is always weekly Shabbat. If you don’t currently do anything for Shabbat, why not start? Have some friends over for dinner or have a candlelit dinner the two of you.
Try doing one Jewish thing at each dinner and figure out which ones the two of you most enjoy. Having guests? Lighting candles? Having fresh challah? Reflecting on the past week?
If your boyfriend is feeling that you could be the one, start showing him what life with a Jewish woman is like. Don’t hit him over the head with it, but tell him that you want to share what you love most about being Jewish. Maybe see a Jewish-themed film or play. Play him some music; take him to the Contemporary Jewish Museum or to a local Judaica shop.
Let me know how it goes.