Joe Krame would have been mighty proud.
As the wooden frame of a hut took shape Sunday in the back yard of his son Evan's Potomac home, Krame would have seen that the years he spent in charge of the annual Jewish ritual would not have been in vain.
For 21 years, Joe Krame had been the one to build the sukkah, a temporary structure meant to represent the huts that Moses and the Israelites lived in as they wandered the desert for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land.
Jewish tradition requires that the sukkah be built as soon as possible after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which ended Saturday night. The sukkah is necessary to celebrate the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, which began yesterday. For seven nights, Jews are expected to live in the sukkah, or at least eat their meals there, and to invite family members and neighbors into the shelter.
Over the years, Joe and his wife, Marilyn, had always traveled from their Long Island home to build the shelter that Joe had designed. Every year they used the same collection of materials. Evan and his wife, Jodi, say Joe usually would have the sukkah half built by the time they got out of bed.
But not this year.
Krame died in December, shortly before his 74th birthday, leaving his son's family and friends to build the sukkah with just memories to guide them.
Wielding an electric drill, Evan Krame, 46, recalled how his father had built him his first sukkah when he came home from Hebrew school at age 14 and said he wanted one. Joe Krame, who was not as religious as his son, didn't know what a sukkah was.
"He was that rare person who could put things together," Evan Krame said.
"Even though he didn't have the same faith I had, he honored me by saying, 'If you believe, I'll help you.' "
Like hundreds of other sukkahs that rose this weekend in yards and driveways across the county, the Krames' sukkah was to be a simple structure: Mauve cloth would cover three sides of the wood frame, and a bamboo window shade would stretch across the top.
As usual, Evan's daughter, Sarah, 13, was in charge of decorating the interior, and she planned to hang clusters of plastic grapes, Indian corn and gourds, and decorative lights.
While some people construct sukkahs from scratch, prefabricated models that pop together quickly also can be purchased. The interior design depends on people's tastes and needs for comfort; some will add a heater and lighting, while others prefer a more rustic look.
Tradition also requires that the roof be unattached and somewhat open to the sky, so simple materials such as pine branches are often used.
Strong winds have toppled the Krames' sukkah in the past, but dealing with such problems is the point of the tradition, family members and friends say.
"We move out of our comfortable house" and into the family sukkah, said Louis Marmon, 47, of Potomac, a family friend who helped the Krames build theirs.
"That makes you very much aware of your place in the world and how we depend on God to provide for us," he said.
Evan, his son Zach, 17, and Sarah planned to sleep in the sukkah for at least one night, as they have over the years. Jodi Krame, 48, said she'd keep watch from an upstairs bedroom window to let them know if it started raining.
"It's really fun, always fun sleeping out in the sukkah. Sometimes we'll get rained on," said Sarah Krame, who has pulled a lounge chair inside to use as a bed in past years.
During the holiday week, the family expected to invite friends and neighbors over for meals and to visit others in their sukkahs.
"We go sukkah-hopping," Evan Krame said. "We'll put out food and we'll walk to a neighbor's house."
But first, the Krames' sukkah needed to be completed -- which was proving to be a bit of a challenge because Joe Krame hadn't left written instructions other than a few words printed on the boards, such as "top side." The words "middle front" appeared on a board that didn't fit in the middle or the front.
Building the sukkah was "like how grandmothers cooked. You had to guess," Evan Krame said as he fitted the pieces of the shelter together like a puzzle.
As the family and friends bustled about and more came bearing potluck dishes for the groaning patio table, the spirit of Joe Krame was everywhere. Guests shared memories of past sukkah constructions.
For Marilyn Krame, 72, who moved to Bethesda six months after her husband died, the event reminded her of how handy he had been with a toolbox and how he had wanted to pass on those skills to his children. She noted that when Joe was alive, Evan often wasn't involved in building the sukkah.
"Now, I'm looking at this here, and Evan's building it and he's not here," she said of her husband, her eyes welling with tears.
But, she recalled quickly, if Joe had been alive, he would have had to be in charge.
"If Dad was here, he'd be saying, 'Guys, you're doing it all wrong,' " Marilyn Krame called out as the construction crew made yet another board fit into place.