Every year, I teach my students some of the more creative laws of sukkahs, the temporary “booths” Jewish people sit in for the 8-day holiday now in progress. The Sukkah Handbook (by Rabbi Hadar Margolin) has a great picture of an elephant being used as a sukkah wall. Check it out! It is right there in the Shulchan Aruch 630:11), the highly regarded Jewish Code of Law. And if you are wondering, it is also ok to build a sukkah on a wagon or boat (Shulchan Aruch 628:2, Mishna Brurah 11, 14), on a camel or on a tree! (Shulchan Aruch 628:3).
There is more room to be creative in building a sukkah than people may think. This comes in handy during this most unusual Covid-19 year.
For those who live in the suburbs, building a sukkah in an ordinary year is no big deal. There are snap together kits for sukkahs of all sizes, and it is easy to buy a schach mat (bamboo, etc) for the top of the sukkah.
For those who live in a city like Manhattan, it is more complicated. The sukkah must be outside with a clear view to the sky—with nothing hanging over it. That means no trees, no roofs, no balconies. For that reason, there are very few sukkahs in the city.
Manhattan residents usually go to their synagogue for communal meals. Or they go to a restaurant with a sukkah. One can argue that the sukkah is an early prototype of the perfect outdoor dining spot for these Covid days! Jews have been eating outside in the somewhat hilly autumn for years!
Other Manhattan residents are lucky enough to spot a Chabad sukkah in a public park or along various walkways on the Upper East Side. Here is a piece I wrote 3 years ago for Chabad.org about sukkahs on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. They playfully called it “When a Private Sukkah Costs $4 Million, Where Do We Eat?” People are free to drop by and use it anytime.
There are also Chabad bicycle sukkahs, and sukkahs on the back of pickup trucks.
But this year, there are extra challenges. I want to thank Chabad and JLIC, the OU's Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC) at Binghamton University, for creative, safety-minded thinking. They have come up with ways to build a sukkah which allows for maximum openness and flow of air.
See the pictures below for photos of a Chabad sukkah in Tel Aviv which is open on the sides and has “private pods” for diners to eat in family units, distanced from other sukkah guests. The next photo is of sukkahs offered to students at Binghamton University with the “minimum” number of walls required by Jewish law. The next photo is of a sukkah at Manhattans’ Bagels and Co—for one or two diners at a time. The final sukkah is a common site around the country—Chabad sukkahs for one or two—on a pickup truck.
Enjoy a happy, safe Sukkot. It is nice to know there are ways to ensure both!