How to make a graham cracker sukkah

Last week, in anticipation of Sukkot, I wrote about how to make a sukkah that fits on balconies and small patios. This week, let’s shrink it down even more with a tabletop sukkah made with graham crackers. It’s a great holiday decoration for your home, and it’s also edible and fun to make with the kids. 

The sukkah shown in this tutorial measures 3 feet by 3 feet and is 6 feet high — just large enough for a small table and seating for two. If you want your frame to be bigger, just adjust the length of the PVC pipe.

What You’ll Need:

– Four 6-foot sections of 1/2-inch PVC pipe
– Eight 3-foot sections of 1/2-inch PVC pipe
– Eight 1/2-inch PVC 3-way elbow pieces
– Three shower curtains
– Cable zip ties
– Safety pins
– Six 4-foot bamboo poles
– Palm leaves
– Hemp string

Note: PVC pipe comes in 10-foot lengths at Home Depot and other stores that sell hardware. If you ask nicely, an employee might help you cut the pipe to your desired length. Or you can purchase a PVC cutter at Home Depot for around $20 and make the cuts yourself in seconds. That’s what I did, cutting the PVC pipe in the parking lot to fit it in my car.

1. Assemble the base

2. Add the vertical supports

3. Add elbow pieces to the top

4. Add the last PVC sections

5. Hang the walls

6. Secure the bottom of the walls

7. Put up the roof supports

8. Finish the roof

9. Furnish the sukkah

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A new tzedakah box from an old album cover

Making a tzedakah box is a fun craft activity for kids from age 8 to 80, and creating the box provides a valuable lesson in the importance of charity. This tzedakah box made from an up-cycled record album cover is eco-friendly, so it’s good for the community — and the environment. 

Of course, I don’t encourage you to sacrifice a prized record from your collection. Step away from that Beatles “White Album.” Instead, look in thrift shops and garage sales for old albums with interesting artwork. I actually found the Eydie Gorme album pictured here at an Out of the Closet thrift store. It didn’t even come with the vinyl record inside, so the clerk gave it to me for free.

And yes, because I know you’re wondering: I have made a tzedakah box from a Neil Sedaka album cover — which proves that although breaking up is hard to do, making your own tzedakah box isn’t.

What you’ll need:

  • Album cover
  • Ruler
  • Hobby knife
  • Hot glue gun
  • Duct tape


Follow the template available for download on in cutting the album cover. It indicates how large of a section to cut out of the album cover (11.5-by-7 inches). The black line indicates where to cut this section in half, and the red lines indicate where to score the cardboard.

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DIYers take on Pesach

At first glance, it’s hard to tell if Eileen Levinson’s Alternative Seder Plate is deeply thoughtful or merely playful. Or perhaps just coolly irreverent.

Levinson adapted her Alternative Seder Plate concept to design the ” title=”Theres an app. for that” target=”_blank”>There’s an app. for that]

Levinson’s art taps into the ethos today’s young adults are bringing to their seders. They want seders where the conversation is collaborative, the themes personally relevant and socially aware, and the resources as diverse as the people around the table. Traditions are important and respected, but also might be idiosyncratically altered or eliminated. A leader may be appointed to keep things moving, but the hierarchy is flat — the seder is a crowd-sourced effort that aims, ultimately, to produce a spiritual/socially relevant/Jewishly connected experience.

And it’s not only young people who are checking it out. Increasingly, adults of all ages are looking past the irreverence to see the potential for relevance in these new do-it-yourself seders.

“You are applying Passover to a generation of people who really enjoy creativity and getting their hands dirty as part of understanding something,” said writer/director Jill Soloway, founder of East Side Jews, an organization that holds monthly events “at unlikely venues during unpopular holidays for Jews with confused identities,” according to its Web site.

East Side Jews hosted a panel discussion that included Soloway and Levinson this week at Skylight Books focusing on the “New American Haggadah,” edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, and exploring ways to personalize seder.


To be sure, tinkering with the seder is hardly a new idea — in fact, it is built into the holiday and may be one of the reasons Passover is the single-most observed holiday on the Jewish calendar. Thousands of versions of the haggadah have been produced over many centuries.

“In every generation, you are obligated to see yourself as if you yourself left Egypt,” the haggadah demands.

And later on, “Whoever discusses the story extensively is praiseworthy.”

Will Deutsch’s sketches provide a caricature-like nostalgic take on Passover moments. A search for the afikomen.

“The haggadah gives you permission to make the seder experience speak to you, where you’re at, right now,” said Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and author of “Passover: The Spiritual Guide for Family Celebration” (Jewish Lights). “The seder is not supposed to be a history lesson. It’s supposed to be a multisensory experience of the Exodus from Egypt itself, and whatever Egypt is constraining you now. That ought to be the topic of the evening — how to place yourself not in history, but in the ongoing story of your spiritual life and your connection to Judaism.”

And Jews have read themselves into the haggadah for centuries. Artwork portraying the four sons, for instance, has included communists, emancipationists, Israeli pioneers, Chasidim or American rebellious teens as the simple, wise, wicked and nonverbal children.

In 1969, 800 blacks and whites attended the first “Freedom Seder,” which Rabbi Arthur Waskow hosted in the basement of a church in Washington, D.C., on the first anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The 1973 “Jewish Catalog,” a countercultural Jewish playbook by Richard Siegel and Michael and Sharon Strassfeld, suggested vegetarians might use a beet on the seder plate in place of the zeroa, traditionally a lamb shank, and the vegetarian “Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb,” edited by Roberta Kalechofsky, appeared in the mid-1970s. Feminist seders continue to be popular today.


So if all that started in the 1960s, what’s so revolutionary about today’s seders?

For one, many in the Jewish community never embraced the seder revolution of the 1960s and ’70s but instead stuck with the old take-turns-reading-out-of-the-Maxwell-House-haggadah model. And within families that have added more interaction, more theatrics, more activity to the seder, this next generation is simply eager to add its own layer to the story.

A 21st century seder uses technology to access a vast spectrum of resources, and it lets ideas emerge from conversation and activity rather than being frontally presented. The seder is less likely to be singularly themed — feminist or civil rights, say — than to incorporate a patchwork of personal and societal ideas that make up the hybrid identity of this generation.

They want ownership and personal meaning, and are not willing to wait for the natural turnover of generations so they can take the lead.

“I went home two seders ago, and at the end of it, I was like, ‘I can’t do that again,’ ” said Tami Reiss, a 30-year-old Web product manager who lives in Los Angeles.

Reiss’ parents live in Florida and are Orthodox; each year they go through the entire text of the haggadah, mostly with her father leading.

“I think there is a big difference between a patriarch leading the seder and being the main source of information, as opposed to everyone bringing some level of curiosity and ability to ask and reply to questions,” Reiss said. “When one person is leading, it’s harder to get that sense of ownership.”

Last year, Reiss hosted her own seder, with the benefit of a grant from Birthright Next. The organization reimburses alumni of Birthright Israel trips who host guests for Shabbat and Passover in their homes. Nearly 550 hosts have signed up through Birthright Next this year, with 35 seders in Los Angeles.

Reiss and her co-host supplied some prompts, but, for the most part, they let the conversation flow. She wrote the Passover timeline out on cards, which she handed out, asking her guests to organize themselves according to the chronological order of the events on their cards.

“It was vegetarian, and we had fun; we played interactive seder games — it was kind of everything I ever wanted a seder to be at my parents’ house,” Reiss said.

Ayana Morse, community director of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, said that non-Jews who have attended her seder have been impressed with the depth of conversation.

“It sort of epitomizes the Jewish idea of the importance of asking questions by providing this forum for guided dinner-party conversation. I think people are sort of desperate for that deeper engagement with friends and peers,” Morse said.


My heart is in the West; my turkey is in the East.

To be more precise, as I write these words, a man named Simon Feil is standing at the corner of 110th and Broadway in Manhattan with a flatbed full of freshly killed broad-breasted white turkeys, waiting for my brother-in-law to come pick one up for our Thanksgiving table.

This year I followed my conscience to Kosher Conscience, an upstart organization Feil, a 32-year-old yeshiva graduate and former mashgiach, founded to provide kosher consumers with a more humane source of dead protein.

Feil’s free-range turkeys live out their lives on a farm in upstate New York. Instead of being killed on an assembly line, they are slaughtered according to kosher law one-by-one, unaware of their quickening fate. If you had to end up on a dining table with wild mushroom and leek stuffing where your guts used to be, that’s the way you’d want to go.

Feil’s list of customers pay dearly for this extra care — about $7.50 per pound vs. just over $2 per pound for a corporate kosher bird.

The list of start-ups like this is growing: There is Mitzvah Meat, a Hudson Valley co-op raising grass-fed lamb and beef, and Maryland-based KOL Foods (for Kosher Organic Local). There’s also talk of a California-based kosher humane venture.

But the news here isn’t just about a new kosher food movement. It’s about a much larger change than that. Everywhere you look in Jewish life, people are taking it upon themselves to re-think traditional ways of doing things. The kosher humane movement is just one example of how, in our time, the structures of organized Jewish life are being reorganized.

And the powerful force behind all this: Just your everyday, garden-variety Jew — Joe the Jew, if you will.

It’s happening in synagogue life, where so many small, unaffiliated minyans are starting up that a national conference was held last month in New York to analyze and support them. Organizers counted dozens of these nascent not-quite-shuls — not just in New York and Los Angeles but also in the Midwest and Northwest.

Mainstream synagogues are still home to the majority of affiliated Jews, but those who don’t feel at home in a larger synagogue, now don’t feel they have to opt out of spiritual life — they are creating their own smaller structures.

In Jewish philanthropy, too, the one-size-fits-many federation model has veered to smaller, do-it-yourself groups that either raise and distribute funds according to more specific needs or follow a venture capital model.

Sometimes the money originates with a single, idiosyncratic wealthy donor, sometimes with a small group with a specific agenda.

Many of these new entities have decades-old roots in the Jewish identity and renewal movement of the 1970s, which started calling into question the way things were. But the process of change has accelerated and is now widespread.

Technology has helped. The Internet is an effective and relatively inexpensive organizing tool. Many of the new minyans forgo mailings altogether and rely solely on the Web to knit together their congregations. Blogs and online video collapse the distance between Jews, spread new ideas faster and even enable more cost-effective fundraising.

Where all this will lead, no one knows. A new generation of Jews, weaned on what’s new and cutting edge, is unlikely to settle comfortably into the boards and pews their parents once occupied.

Some of the changes are faddish and no doubt will be fleeting. Others, like Kosher Conscience, I would go long on. With the ongoing crumbling of Agriprocessors, it’s easy to imagine that a larger portion of the kosher-observant Jewish world will stop subcontracting their ethics out to the lowest bidders.

But the success of such small and independent innovations begs three questions.

The first is whether, amidst all this change and diversity, there is a way to keep a sense of connection to the larger Jewish community, even to a larger communal agenda. This isn’t just important in times of crisis, as when Israel is in danger, or the economy goes into freefall. There are good things we can only achieve together — if we can first come together. It’s not clear how we do this when 10 friends, some cash and a Web site are enough to create a Jewish world unto themselves.

The second is: How do we institutionalize radical change? Some of these upstart groups and ideas are too good to stay at the margins. It’s critical that larger institutions and synagogues pay attention to what’s new and incorporate or adapt what seems to be working. Some already have: Federations now have venture capital funds and directed giving, and many synagogues long ago jumped into the smaller minyan model.

But all this newness also begs this third crucial question: What will we leave behind?

The mission was clear for previous generations: They built the brick and mortar of the community. They funded all the parking lots, the classrooms, the social service organizations; they invested their time and labor in the boards and Roberts Rules and banquets — all that unsexy stuff that is the scaffolding of community. They bequeathed us not just some cool blogs or a minyan to bliss out in, but a community to physically inhabit, to rebel against, to improve.

That’s our job, too, not just to change and innovate, but to leave behind something better, something substantial.

It likely won’t be actual buildings, but it should be something the next generation can build upon.

Happy Thanksgiving.

How to throw a great party for less than $3,000

Live chamber music, canapes, games, photographs, food, food and more food, dances, drinks, sign-in card, table decorations, invitations, servers, flower arrangements, party favors and, of course, the appropriate clothing. The checklist for my oldest nephew’s bar mitzvah went on and on. So did the unbelievable cost estimates: $35,000 almost started to sound reasonable.

As the vendors called in with their “fantastic deals,” the look on my mother’s face went from elated — at the prospect of her first grandchild being a bar mitzvah — to sorrowful. We all wanted to give my nephew the bar mitzvah party to not just match but surpass all of the one’s he’d been invited to during the year.

Yet the family’s fortunes were not equal to the task. All we could scrimp together was $3,000. It could only have been divine inspiration that led us to the conclusion that this actually made the job of putting together a bar mitzvah to remember a lot easier than it seemed.

We didn’t have all that money to spend, so we didn’t have all those decisions to make, the vendors to argue with and the worries that so often attend the intricacies of event parties. For instance, since we could not afford to have colored lace tablecloths over contrasting table covers with matching napkins, we didn’t have them. We also didn’t have to spend the time, energy and, especially, the money to achieve these decorating wonders.

So knowing what we didn’t have, we set to thinking about what we did have: 200 guests were too many. We scrutinized and discussed and decided unanimously that this was to be a party for my nephew.

We were ruthless. We would not invite bosses, second cousins, divorced stepparents or people we would have invited just to be polite but knew they wouldn’t really want to come.

My nephew’s friends got priority, as did immediate family members. Since this family is quite small, this easily chopped the guest list in half.

The most costly item, which we could have done without, was the synagogue hall. Although we were advised to just go to a restaurant, there were none close by that served kosher food, so we were kind of stuck.

But as to food, our local friendly deli owner not only gave us a wonderful price on a buffet but also on wait staff.

With the hall, food and wait staff as the most expensive items, we were left with next to nothing with which to provide all those extras parents and kids have come to expect, like music, engraved invitations, menus and place cards.

It had worked the first time, so again we looked to ourselves as resources. We volunteered my sister, a member of a string ensemble, to provide music. She knew a couple of musicians who owed her, and all had been at enough weddings and b’nai mitzvahs that they knew what was expected. The whole process took some minor arm-twisting and guilt tripping, but what are sisters for?

Invitations and pretty much all printed matter — place cards, menus, even a giant sign-in card and some table decorations, vaguely reminiscent of the ones at the $35,000 parties — well, that’s where my talents came in. Give me a desktop publishing program, and I can move the world.

Actually, this did require a little help from a friend who had a paper cutter and was willing to do a whole lot of folding, measuring and envelope stuffing. We figured out everything we needed, from invitations to place cards, then designed them and printed them out. We did have to buy envelopes, but we had a little left over for that.

Flower arrangements were simple: just a few carnations in a small bowl of water. Tablecloths were plain white, and we supplemented the chamber music with a boombox, allowing the kids to pick the music they wanted to play.

All in all, it wasn’t slick; it wasn’t smooth, but the bar mitzvah boy said his haftarah flawlessly, and as for the rest of us, instead of being frenzied, we were proud because we had put this whole thing together for him.

Oh, and the reason we needed to spend such a small amount of money, well, that was because it was taken up by Dan’s surprise present from us: a trip to Israel. To this day, the party was a nice memory, but in his own words, “That trip taught me where God was.”

Anne Phyllis Pinzow is a script writer who makes her main living as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Do-it-yourself High Holy Days sermon

You think you have it bad? What about your rabbi, who has to work weeks — no, months — to prepare a High Holy Days Sermon. You think it’s easy writing a speech that people will remember for the rest of the year? Well, then, why don’t you and a friend write your very own with our MadLibs [R] version. First ask your partner to supply the missing words. Then read the completed sermon aloud … and enjoy.

To my _____ _____ and _____ of Congregation _____ Israel, I’d like to wish you a _____ New Year.

On this very _____ day, let us take time to _____ back on our _____ lives.

I want to begin with a _____ story about Rabbi _____ ben _____, may he rest in peace, from the old city of _____. You may remember how this man sacrificed his _____ for the sake of giving _____ every week.

And you may also remember how his children, _____, _____, and Eliezer had to make _____ sacrifices, but the important point to remember is that “for every mitzvah we are blessed with _____.”

Which is why this year, I would like every person to adopt a new mitzvah, like _____. Also, you should stop _____.

But, we cannot simply rely on God alone to make the world a better _____. We must also ___________________________________________.

And we can’t _____ the world on our own. We must come together and _____ together.

We must also remember our _____ in Israel, who always needs our support. That’s why you must take the blue _____ under your seat and donate $_____.

With this _____ membership gift, we can _____ our connection to _____ through Temple programs such as _____, _____, and the building of a new _____.

For a mere $_____, we will send you and _____ to Israel for a _____. If you’re not a member, now is the time to _____! We need your support!

Remember our responsibility to _____, as it says in the book of _____. “Do unto _____ as _____ would have done unto you.”

This extremely clear message will help you reach _____ With that in mind, I wish you all a _____ and _____ New Year.


(plural masculine noun)

(plural feminine noun)

(Hebrew word)

(Insert guttural Hebrew/Yiddish word. Make one up if you don’t know one.)

(adjective how you feel in synagogue)



(adjective how you feel in synagogue)

(Hebrew name)

(foreign word)

(place of your last vacation)

(your most valuable possession)

($ amount)

(favorite number)

(Cantor’s name)

(name of insect)


(favorite activity)

(household chore you hate)


(Orthodox: insert mitzvah between man and God; Conservative: insert mitzvah between fellow men; Reform: insert political cause; Reconstructionist: insert environmental cause; Atheist: insert favorite sport.)


(same verb)


(amount you cheated on taxes last year)

(adjective you’d like people to call you)


(favorite religion)

(obscure sport)

(social activity)

(luxury item)

(this week’s lottery jackpot)

(favorite actor)

(time you need vacation)


(dead comedian)

(name of disease)


(same animal)

(name of a casino.)