Sukkot at Opal Creek
By Hadara Goldsmith
After building a beautiful sukkah in our backyard using lumber lent to us by the ReBuilding Center and helping both Havurah Shalom (Portland’s Reconstructionist Synagogue) and Chabad build their sukkot, we dumped our stuff in the trunk and piled into the van. Rebecca’s tunes kept us bopping along the road until we stopped at the gas station, because it’s not a real road trip if the car doesn’t break down somewhere along the way, right? As it turned out, this “so-called gas station” didn’t have any bathrooms, so, after getting all of our vehicles all fixed up and ready to rumble, we all climbed back into the van. I climbed in last, along with my collection of dramamine and achingly full bladder.
We got back on the road and continued on our way to Opal Creek, where two cabins with running water AND electricity sat patiently awaiting our arrival. We journeyed on foot along the last three miles of gravel road to our cabins, just like the Israelites traveled with their collapsed sukkot on their backs two thousand years ago. (In fact, the PCJH [the Portland Committee of Jewish Holidays] is considering establishing a holiday to commemorate our endurance, courage, and strength in this time of struggle in the face of adversity.) Anyway, three miles and a couple of rusted historical trainwrecks later, we arrived at our cabins and began cooking dinner, unpacking, and building our makeshift sukkah in the backyard. A couple of trees were scaled, and I wouldn’t say I almost fell off a cliff, but I did almost almost fall off a cliff. It’s totally fine, though. We built our sukkah using three tarps, a rope, and some very large and pointy sticks and logs we foraged for in the woods. Our sukkah turned out quite well, in my opinion, especially considering the materials we were working with. And it was only vaguely a safety hazard.
We ate dinner in the sukkah that night and then said some really beautiful prayers, the names of which I cannot remember, or, more likely, never knew in the first place. But they were really nice. I promise. Once dinner was (hopefully) cleaned up, I went upstairs to go to sleep, because watching people cook is incredibly exhausting. That night, Ariella and I started a new trend, where people talk in a (in my case) really bad Southern accent really loudly for an extended period of time. We’re still working on getting this trend to spread, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
I fell asleep feeling especially Southern, and very content to be celebrating this holiday in such a meaningful way, which is something I have not fully appreciated before.
We ate a delicious breakfast in the morning, and then participated in another beautiful service led by our program director, Adinah. Following services, many people, including me, stumbled down through a jumble of trees to the creek, where Max led us in a 30 minute meditation. Having this time to quietly and peacefully think about where I was in that moment took me one step closer to realizing that Sukkot is absolutely my favorite holiday. In that moment I felt so grateful to be exactly where I was, and to be able to fully celebrate the holiday without outside distractions and responsibilities, and to be able to celebrate it in a way that was meaningful to me.
After hiking the 40 seconds back up the hill to the cabin, I went out on an optional hike officially led by Ben and me, but really led by Steve, because, let’s be real, I had no idea where we were going. I started this hike off feeling exhausted and unsure of whether or not I really wanted to do it, but after the first mile or so, I remembered why I love hiking. We walked through beautifully green, moss-covered trees. We passed through a waterfall that started as a tiny little pond, and then traveled over the edge of a cliff and continued into a creek lined with green, and some green, and more green. From a distance I saw a much larger waterfall full of the clearest, most beautiful water I have ever seen. I sped up, and practically ran the rest of the way to the waterfall, where I had no choice but to sit down and take out my notebook and pen and write some trite poetry, probably about how it made me feel, but hopefully not.
The next morning consisted of another beautiful meditation, this time led by Ben and Deborah. The meditation was followed by a rich discussion and a bit of text study, and then we split up and a few people hiked back out to the waterfall, this time to swim in this miraculously beautiful water.
The most beautiful water I have ever seen, the clear, bluish water with marble-looking rocks visible at the bottom of the pond, shining through to the surface, the sun glimmering on the water majestically, completely unrealistically, this water, is the most ridiculously freezing water I have ever felt. I slid off of a slimy rock into the water and screamed bloody murder, and, hyperventilating, swiped at the slimy rock with my numb hands. I cursed myself for never being grateful enough for having opposable thumbs. I flailed my way back onto the rock and into the sun.
“It was quite nice,” I answered calmly when asked how the water was.
When Steve arrived at the waterfall, we all decided it was a good time to jump into the deeper pool from a rock up above. We took turns jumping into the freezing water and then getting out of the water as quickly as possibly. Shua was our reigning champion, having jumped in 3 times. We twiddled our thumbs at the waterfall a while, and then decided it was time to head back to the cabins for lunch.
On the hike back to the parking lot, we stopped for a text study at another beautiful spot in the woods with a view of a different waterfall. The group continued on at a relatively normal speed, while Ariella and I stayed back, nursing her injured knee and blistered feet. We wandered through the woods for what felt like hours, almost got lost, thought we went the wrong way, tried not to cry, accepted our inevitable death in these woods (Spoiler alert: we’re still alive), and then saw lights shining towards us from the parking lot. We did Havdalah in the parking lot, drank grape juice out of a water bottle, and began the long journey back to Portland.