The simple wooden structure made of wood, plastic and pine seems out of place in this Columbia neighborhood brimming with manicured lawns and foreign cars. Yet for one family, that is precisely why it is there.
The small shelter constructed on the deck of the Columbia home was built and decorated by Yisroel and Nava Susskind and two of their four children in observance of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, which begins 18 minutes before sunset this evening.
The eight-day holiday, also called the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorates the exodus from Egypt when the ancient Hebrews wandered through the desert before reaching Israel.
"Sukkot is a beautiful holiday. It's an agricultural holiday, the beginning of the rainy season in Israel, a time of bounty," said psychologist Yisroel Susskind, 48.
The holiday falls in contrast to the just-celebrated Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, both solemn holidays.
To mark the holiday, many Jews build -- and use -- a sukkah, or temporary structure. Some only eat in it, but others even sleep there.
Celebrating with others is another aspect of the holiday.
"We have guests for all the meals," said Nava Susskind, 43, a nurse. "We invite people of different backgrounds, those who are familiar with the songs and sing with us and those who otherwise would not experience a "The sukkah is part of being active and doing something concrete, of participating in Judaism with your children," said her husband. Sons Ari, 12, and Yosef, 7, helped pound in the nails.
This is the second year that the family has built a sukkah at their Wilde Lake home. Religious guidelines say a sukkah must be at least 40 inches tall, cannot be permanent, must be enclosed on at least three sides and the roof must be rebuilt every year.
"The roof has to be relatively open and made of shrubbery," Yisroel Susskind said. "The thatching needs to be sufficient so you have more shade than sun, which is symbolic of the clouds that protected the Jews from the sun." But it can't be too dense. "If it rains, the rain has to be able to The Susskinds are using pine branches for the roof from a neighbor's trees. "Last year we used eight-foot corn stalks with the corns hanging down," Yisroel Susskind said.
The frame, which resembles a trellis, was built last year and will not be taken down. Beams in the middle and bottom were added. "For the sides we stapled on plastic sheeting, which is relatively inexpensive," Yisroel Susskind said.
Family decorations grace the sukkah. "We hang plastic fruits and drawings that the kids make. We also buy commercial decorations and pictures," said Yisroel Susskind. Among the earliest decorations up were a string of crepe paper and photographs.
The Susskinds, members of the Orthodox congregation Columbia Torah Minyan, are New York natives who lived on Israeli kibbutzim, or communal settlements, in the early 1970s.
In 1975 Yisroel Susskind accepted a teaching position at the University of Maryland-Baltimore.
"We chose to live in Columbia because it felt like an overgrown kibbutz," said Nava Susskind.
"In my practice, I see parents who feel their children are ungrateful and the kids I see feel they deserve it all. Religion inculcates you into having more appreciation, and in the long run, that translates into more happiness," the psychologist said.