building a sukkah, foer style

by tobybee

The Jewish News today, in a bizarre move, actually had an entertaining, laugh-out-loud article. It may have been a first. It’s certainly the first time I can remember when my brother and I read an article together, reading out bits for the joy of it, rather than to cringe or get angry. But, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t an original AJN article – it was taken from The Forward, and was an interview with Jonathan Safran Foer and Josh Foer conducted by Leah Koenig (a food writer, whose writing I’ve liked for some time), about their experiences building a sukkah in Jonathan’s backyard. You can find the whole thing here. But here are some choice bits…

What sort of sukkah traditions did your family have growing up?

Jonathan Safran Foer: According to family legend, our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Menashe Chrabolowski was a master sukkah builder. He was known to fashion whimsical yet sturdy structures from nothing but burlap and waxed dental floss.

Josh Foer: The gene has obviously been diluted. Our father, God bless him, is a man of many talents, but wielding a hammer isn’t one of them. Growing up, he had to have the father of one of Jonathan’s friends construct our family sukkah.

JSF: It was a Freudian nightmare.

Have you collaborated on building projects in the past?

J.F.: Mattress forts.

JSF: Last year we built a puppet theater for my son.

J.F.: I built. He watched.

JSF: I didn’t watch.

What was the appeal of building a sukkah?

J.F.: We’re supposed to be the People of the Book, but we’re actually the people of the carpenter’s square. From Noah to Jesus to Norm Abram, it’s a very proud tradition, you know.

JSF: Always hammering or getting screwed….

Was the design based on anything in particular?

JSF: The favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

What materials did you use, and where did they come from?

J.F.: The frame was pine, the walls were burlap, and the schach —

JSF: Gezuntite!

J.F.: — was mostly cornstalks.

JSF: We went to the local gardening store. I was trying to explain to a Dominican guy behind the counter that we needed a whole bunch of cheap greenery for an art project we were working on. He was like, “Oh, you mean, schach?”

What foods do you remember eating in the sukkah last year? Anything that stands out in your memory? This is a food column, after all.

JSF: The afikomen.

J.F.: It was stale.

JSF: It started stale.

J.F.: How do you know when matzo has gone bad? When it starts tasting good? Bada bing!

J.F.: My wife made an amazing feast one night, and we had a whole bunch of our friends over. She served the soup in little carved-out pumpkins.

JSF: You’re thinking of Halloween.

J.F.: No, on Halloween she made matzo ball soup.

J.S.F.: We had some of my son’s friends over for a party the next day. They tore down all but two of the walls.

Jonathan lives next to a Chabad House — did either of you ever sneak a peak at their sukkah? How did yours compare?

JSF: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s sukkah.

J.F.: No offense, but those guys haven’t had a noteworthy piece of architecture since 770.

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