Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sukkat blessing for urbanites: All aboard the pedi-sukkah! 

sukkah on wheels in NYC pedi sukkah university colorado

Sukkot is upon us, the annual holiday when Jews are commanded to live inside a sukkah – a small hut-like structure that commemorates the shelters used by the ancients as they wandered the desert during Exodus. Not much of a challenge to build a small “booth” in a suburban backyard, but what if you’re in midtown Manhattan? Then flag down a bicycle bespoke for Sukkat blessings, designed by a free-wheeling Brooklyn yeshiva student.

The holiday commences tonight and ends on the evening of October 4th. It’s a joyous week when meals are meant to be taken inside the sukkah and men are required to sleep there, although they get a pass in wet weather.

A sukkah can be any size, as long as it serves it’s temporary purpose. It must have at least two and a half walls, made of any material, including recycled and re-purposed fabrics; but the roof must be made from loose plant material such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, or lumber. Nowadays, you can buy do-it-yourself sukkah online, or build your own. But even those options won’t work if you live in a tiny city studio or share a cramped flat with non-observant friends. Here’s where the prayerful pedi-sukkah comes in.

As a student with the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic sect, Levi Duchman wanted to do something to allow all New Yorkers to experience the holiday. Duchman, now 21, built his first prototype five years ago atop a rented pedicab, working with his younger brother. He now works with a manufacturer to produce an easy-to-assemble version that costs nearly $2,000 to make. Duchman sells them at cost, telling the Jewish Telegraph Agency, “It’s not a business,” he said. “It’s a way to spread awareness. Baruch hashem.”

Today, more than 50 of his bikes are in use in 15 American states and in five other countries. Last year, they were rolled out at the University of Colorado (image above). Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm, of the campus Chabad Jewish Center, told the school newspaper, “It’s very mobile, it’s fun and Jewish kids recognize it as exactly what it is.” He added that the Sukkot project is just one part of a broader effort to make Judaism as accessible as possible to students who often feel they have better things to do.

Each mobile sukkah meets all the halachic requirements. During the holiday, Duchman says he spends 12 hours each day on the pedi-sukkah, riding around Brooklyn and Manhattan to allow New Yorkers to step inside to say a prayer. Sometimes people ask for a ride, and he often obliges for short hauls.

“It’s the best thing to see people’s reactions, and to give people in New York the opportunity to get involved with the holiday,” Duchman said. “We get a lot of smiles and pictures, and lot of positivity, even from the police.”


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