Forty years ago, Ruth and Sy Hefter built a one-of-a-kind sukkah. Four decades later, their temporary holiday hut has lived in three states, survived two major hurricanes and now resides in Baltimore.
“My sukkah is inspired from a sukkah at the Jewish Museum in Jerusalem,” said Sy Hefter. “In that sukkah, all the walls were made out of wood, whereas my sukkah is made out of panels and canvases. If you look at it, you will see a mural.”
Still working as a social worker, Sy, 87, brought designs from Israeli artists to life in decorating his sukkah, which was recently raised at the Pikesville home of his daughter-in-law, Wendy Hefter, in time for the holiday of Sukkot that begins on the night of Oct. 15.
“I saw a postage stamp by a famous Israeli artist and decided to enlarge it,” said Sy. “You have honestly never seen a sukkah like this. It is so unique and brings joy to so many people.”
Living in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., at the time, the Hefter family entertained friends and family in the sukkah every year. In June 1972, Hurricane Agnes hit their hometown. While the flood filled their apartment, their sukkah, which had been disassembled, survived the storm.
“I used waterproof paint to create the panels,” said Sy. “All I had to do was hang the sukkah up to dry, and it was perfect again.”
Moving to Brooklyn, N.Y., and then the Belle Harbor section of Queens, their sukkah was put on display for everyone to see.
It was “well known as the first stop on their shul’s annual Sukkah Hop,” says Wendy Hefter in a written history of the sukkah. “Everyone marveled at the beauty within the sukkah while Ruth and Sy retold the background of each design to their guests — young and old — and then offered them some home-baked goodies and a lollipop.”
If one flood was not enough, the resilient sukkah took on another hurricane. Almost 40 years after Hurricane Agnes, Hurricane Sandy ripped the East Coast in November 2012.
“First, it was Agnes, and then, it was Sandy,” said Sy. “Mother Nature is no match for our sukkah.”
According to the family, the Hefters remained in their home despite warnings to leave. Staying on the second floor in their landlord’s house, the Hefters watched the first floor of their home flood. Living in the “disaster area” of Sandy’s footprint, they lost nearly all of their belongings, including their car and a prized bicycle.
Driving up to salvage any leftover belongings, their son, David, went to the apartment to see what possessions were left. After processing the shock of the flood, the Hefters, writes Wendy, recovered “valuable papers, artwork from the walls, two 1950s Eames molded fiberglass chairs that had survived Agnes, and … the sukkah panels!”
Moving the sukkah to its third and final home, David and Wendy Hefter and their daughter, Amy, adopted the hut.
“As the sun shone onto [the panels], I was in awe of their beauty and brilliance, even with their new ‘Sandy’ stains,” writes Wendy. “I had only seen them in photographs since we always spent Sukkot in our own sukkah.”
Ruth and Sy now look forward to coming to Baltimore to celebrate.
Sy said, “I love creative people, and I invite everyone to come see the sukkah, eat in the sukkah and give me ideas on how to I make the sukkah better.”