The Sukkah Still Stands
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The Sukkah Still Stands

The Sukkah Still Stands

No matter how vulnerable our physical fortresses may be, we give harbor to neither despair nor insecurity.

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There is simply no describing the plaintive, moving melody to which Yiddish writer Avraham Reisen's poem was set. As a song, it is familiar to many of us who know it thanks to immigrant parents or grandparents. And, remarkably, the strains of "A Sukkeleh," no matter how often we may have heard them, still tend to choke us up.

Based on Reisen's "In Sukkeh," the song, whose popular title means "A Little Sukkah," really concerns two sukkot, one literal, the other metaphorical, and the poem, though it was written at the beginning of the last century, is still tender, profound and timely.

Thinking about the song, as I -- and surely others -- invariably do every year this season, it occurred to me to try to render it into English for readers unfamiliar with either the song or the language in which it was written. I'm not a professional translator, and my rendering, below, is not perfectly literal. But it's close, and is faithful to the rhyme scheme and meter of the original:

A sukkaleh, quite small,
Wooden planks for each wall;
Lovingly I stood them upright.
I laid thatch as a ceiling
And now, filled with deep feeling,
I sit in my sukkaleh at night.

A chill wind attacks,
Blowing through the cracks;
The candles, they flicker and yearn.
It's so strange a thing
That as the Kiddush I sing,
The flames, calmed, now quietly burn.

In comes my daughter,
Bearing hot food and water;
Worry on her face like a pall.
She just stands there shaking
And, her voice nearly breaking,
Says "Tattenyu, the sukkah's going to fall!"

Dear daughter, don't fret;
It hasn't fallen yet.
The sukkah will be fine, understand.
There have been many such fears,
For nigh two thousand years;
Yet the sukkahleh continues to stand.

As we approach the holiday of Sukkot and celebrate the divine protection our ancestors were afforded during their 40 years' wandering in the Sinai desert, we are supposed -- indeed, commanded -- to be happy. We refer to Sukkot, in our Amidah prayer, as "the time of our joy."

We are secure because our ultimate protection, as a people if not necessarily as individuals, is assured.

And yet, at least seen superficially, there is little Jewish joy to be had these days. Jews are brazenly and cruelly murdered in our ancestral homeland, hated and attacked on the streets of European cities -- and here in the United States, our numbers are falling to the internal adversaries of intermarriage and assimilation.

The poet, however, well captured a Sukkot-truth. With temperatures dropping and winter's gloom not a great distance away, our sukkah-dwelling is indeed a quiet but powerful statement: We are secure because our ultimate protection, as a people if not necessarily as individuals, is assured.

And our security is sourced in nothing so flimsy as a fortified edifice; it is protection provided us by God Himself, in the merit of our forefathers, and of our own emulation of their dedication to the divine.

And so, no matter how loudly the winds may howl, no matter how vulnerable our physical fortresses may be, we give harbor to neither despair nor insecurity. Instead, we redouble our recognition that, in the end, God is in charge, that all is in His hands.

And that, as it has for millennia, the sukkah continues to stand.

Published: October 6, 2003


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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Anonymous, September 22, 2013 1:50 PM

music/song

is there any recording available of this beautiful song?

(5) esther gluck, October 19, 2011 3:15 PM

yiddish version

i am trying to obtain the yiddish version of this song. Do you have it and if so can you please email it to me, even if you just have part of it. my father sings this every year but is not up to writing it out for us and we dont know yiddish to write it ourselves. thank you very much

(4) Ilana, September 20, 2010 11:29 PM

thank you for the article & Yiddish lyrics

Thank you. May you among klal Yisrael have a good, sweet year and joyous Yontif.

(3) Noa, October 15, 2009 3:23 AM

These are the yiddish lyrics of the most common version.

A sukale a kleiner, fun bretelech gemeine hob ich mir a sukale gemacht bagedekt dem dach mit a bisele schach zitz ich mir in sukale ba’nacht a vint a kalten blozt durch di shpalten, un di lichtelech zei leshen zich fil; ez iz mir a chidush vi ich mach mir kidush un di lichtelech zai brenen gantz shtil. zai nisht kain nor, hob nit kain tzar zol dich di succa nit zain bang; es iz shoin gor bald tzvei toiznt yor un di sukale zi shteit noch gantz lang. Tsum ershtn gerikht Mit a blasn gezikht Brengt mir mayn tekhterl arayn: Zi shtelt zikh avek Un zogt mit shrek: Tatele, di suke falt bald ayn. Zay nit keyn nar, Hob nit keyn tsar, Zol dir di suke nit ton bang; Es iz shoyn gor Bald tsvey toyznt yor Un di suke zi shteyt nokh gants lang. Even if the question has been posted years ago, this song is for a long, long time ... and maybe anyone who finds them will enjoy.

(2) Zvi Yosef, October 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Original Lyrics

Can anyone tell me the original Yiddish lyrics for this song?

Evreryone is posting the english lyrics, but that is not what my granmother used to sing.

Thanks

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