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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Saturday, October 21, 2017

The meaning of temporary shelter resounds even more strongly for some this year

Charles Wiese of Houston, Texas, drove to his gutted home right after Yom Kippur to retrieve his sukkah decorations, stored on a high shelf in what had once been his garage. The walls and boards of the sukkah itself are gone, as is most of his house, due to damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The Wiese family is eagerly awaiting delivery of a new sukkah, says his wife, Janice. It’s slated to arrive Monday or Tuesday, coming to them as part of Chabad Harvey Relief, a joint project by the Chabad centers based in Houston.

“Everybody’s sukkah in the neighborhood was stored in their garages and just about everybody’s garages were flooded,” she tells “But it’s great that I’m going to have a sukkah, and I’ll just tell people to bring a folding chair” with them to sit inside it.

Some 30 sukkahs are scheduled to be delivered around town before the holiday of Sukkot, which starts at sundown on Wednesday, Oct. 4, and lasts until nightfall on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Jews around the world are getting ready to celebrate the holiday, with Chabad-Lubavitch representatives planning to reach them via stationary and mobile sukkahs in thousands of cities and towns around the globe. And despite the turmoil of relocation for many in the paths of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Jewish households in those areas are setting up temporary booths amid the chaos of trying to rebuild their lives. In fact, they recognize more than most the impact and power of nature and its forces.

“The sukkah as a temporary space reminds us of the fragility of our lives,” says Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, co-director of Chabad of Uptown in Houston with his wife, Chanie, and program director of Chabad Lubavitch Center Regional Headquarters. “Every year, Jews go into this temporary structure and it reminds us that materialism is a passing fancy, and what we value most are the people around us. We as a community get under one sukkah, as one people, as one nation, to be able to realize what is most important to us: the people, the Torah and G d.”

‘Cathartic for Congregations’

Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, who co-directs Chabad of West Parkland, Fla., with his wife, Estie, says he has seen people pray during the High Holidays with extra gratitude this year, and perhaps, a new realization.

“When we said, ‘Who by fire, and who by water,’ everyone in the synagogue felt it a little bit closer to home, that these really were Days of Awe,” he explains.

Attendance has been up at a number of synagogues in the wake of the storm, he reports. “When something like this is over, we turn to the faith community, and the faith community turns to each other and says, ‘This is a time to pray.’ ”

Synagogues that were in the path of Harvey and Irma, successive storms of unprecedented levels, have been working quickly to get prepared for the holidays. This year in some cases, however, things haven’t been as polished and fluid as usual, says Gutnick.

But there’s a silver lining to that, he adds: “Sometimes, we get a little caught up in the details and the aesthetics of what we think people really want. Sometimes, just a place for the community to come together, especially after such a tumultuous few weeks, is very cathartic for a lot of the congregations—that they had the opportunity to pray together, sing together, hear words of inspiration from the rabbi.”

Free kosher holiday meals will continue through Sukkot and Simchat Torah for those affected by Irma.

In Texas, Lazaroff says that many of the prayers have indeed taken on a new meaning this year. “When we talk about who’s going to have a good year, who’s going to be impacted by rain—those prayers bring up a certain vulnerability,” he says. “And when it comes to Sukkot, I think it will be a little more introspective when realizing that life is temporary, and the comforts we usually fret over are not as important as we make them out to be.”

The emphasis is on being together with family, friends and community, stress the Chabad emissaries.

Eight High Holiday services in different locations were offered by the Houston area’s 11 Chabad centers in a city where people remain in transition, trying to restore their homes and lives, and find their “new normal,” according to Lazaroff.

Over the course of Sukkot, families and individuals impacted by Harvey will be able to take part in Sukkot meals at area Chabad centers without charge.

“On Sukkot, we celebrate the unity of all Jewish people, sitting in the sukkah and rejoicing as one community,” he says. “And this event in Houston has really brought together Jews of all walks of life to be a support for each other.”

‘Sukkah Wood’ to ‘Sukkah Mobile’

In front of the iconic New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown Manhattan, co-directed by Rabbi Yehoshua and Bracha Metzger, will erect a large sukkah that will be accessible around the clock to thousands of Jews who pass through daily. From dawn to dusk, rabbinical students will be helping thousands of Jews fulfill the mitzvahs associated with the holiday.

Chabad-Lubavitch of Inwood in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, co-directed by Rabbi Herschel and Raiza Malka Hartz, will once again host the annual “Sukkah Wood,” a one-day festival where artist groups will be challenged to produce quality, temporary dwelling art installations that will stretch the imagination of what a sukkah can be, and which, conforms with the standards of a kosher sukkah.

Rabbi Mendel and Chaya Goldberg, co-directors of Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, will be renting a large lot to build a sukkah big enough to accommodate the thousands of visitors expected to arrive for the holiday. Chabad is known for bringing the joy of holiday to the streets; in that spirit, a pedi-sukkah(a sukkah attached to a tricycle and pedaled by one person) anda Sukkah mobile (a truck with a sukkah in the back) used to visit Jewish people scattered throughout the Riviera Maya.

Over in Jamaica, Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, who co-directs the Chabad center there with his wife, Mushkee, will drive a Sukkah mobile across Jamaica, visiting Jewish residents in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, Mandeville and Kingston.

And much, much farther east, Chabad will be busy throughout the holiday season in Russia, where prayerbooks, shofars and 3,000 sets of “The Four Species” were sent to some 500 Jewish communities across the former Soviet Union.

During the holiday of Sukkot, Chabad of Moscow’s famed Marina Roscha synagogue in Moscow, directed by Chief Rabbi of Russia Rabbi Berel Lazar, will be home to the largest sukkah in Europe—one that’s more than 15,000 square feet and can seat more than 1,000 people. Throughout the holiday, the sukkah will remain open to thousands who are expected to pass visit it over the course of the eight-day holiday.

Bustling in Asia

On the intermediate days of the holiday of Sukkot, Rabbi Osher Litzman, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Community of Korea with his wife, Mussy, plans to travel across South Korea in a Sukkah mobile visiting Jews across the country and on U.S. military bases, giving them the opportunity to participate in the ritual of shaking the lulav and etrog.

The holiday season comes as they prepare for an influx of visitors this February, who will be in town for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeong Chang, about 75 miles east of Seoul.

In Thailand, Chabad will host thousands of people in sukkahs across the country, enabling all Jews to come by, make a blessing on “The Four Species” and partake in the holiday celebration. Co-directors Rabbi Yosef Chaim and Nechama Dina Kantor in Bangkok have been serving Jewish residents and tourists there for nearly 25 years.

At Chabad of Kansai in Kobe, Japan, a growing number of people have been taking part in what is become something of a community tradition: staying over at the Chabad House for holiday services and programs.

“We have become a strong group,” says Rabbi Shmuel Vishedsky, co-director of the Chabad center with his wife, Batya. “We’re all together, and everybody gets a good feeling from that.”

Last year, 30 people stayed over on Yom Kippur; this year, that number reached 50.

For Sukkot, they’re readying a sukkah that seats 100 people. About 20 of them will stay over at Chabad from Wednesday until Shabbat ends on Saturday night. They’ll enjoy meals and spend time discussing the history and traditions of the holiday, and how it relates to modernity.

“Our community and our guests—everyone from every corner of the world—talk about the etrog, lulav, hadas and aravah.Everybody can see how they refer to us in the sukkah; everyone is very, very different, yet we sit all together in one sukkah as one family,” he says.

In Tokyo, Rabbi Mendi and Chana Sudakevich, co-directors of Chabad Lubavitch Tokyo-Japan, have so far welcomed 150 guests for the High Holidays, about half locals and half tourists.

The rabbi says he looks forward to welcoming locals and visitors for Sukkot, and hopes they all come away from the experience inspired. And then, he hopes they return for services and other Jewish events, building their Jewish connections in Tokyo, “so they will feel more responsible for the community and each other.”

By: Karen Schwartz