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When a Private Sukkah Costs $4 Million, Where Do We Eat?
October 10, 2017 by Howard Blas

Photo: Howard Blas
Chabad sukkahs in public spaces on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, as well as five sukkahs at Chabad Lubavitch Upper East Side on East 77th Street, offer the chance for local residents and visitors to do mitzvahs during the holiday of Sukkoth.
Two young Israeli boys were riding their bikes along Manhattan’s East River Esplanade near Carl Schurz Park at 84th Street. They looked up, smiled, and called to their father in Hebrew: “Abba, look! A sukkah!”

Inside, a young couple with daughters 2 and 4 years old were enjoying a late-afternoon Yom Tov snack as runners, bikers, families pushing strollers and pedestrians walking dogs enjoyed the esplanade outside. The sukkah offers an amazing view of the Triborough Bridge and Roosevelt Island.

In a neighborhood where an apartment with a balcony or private rooftop large enough to host a family sukkah costs about $4 million, public sukkahs are a must for just about anyone who wants to spend time and eat in a sukkah.

About a 10-minute walk from the esplanade—at the sukkah just outside the John Jay Playground and tennis practice wall at East 77th Street and Cherokee Place (East of York Avenue)—a curious mother, father and two kids peeked in, asking “What shul put this up?” They admired the paper chains and art crafted by a group of schoolchildren, and the hanging evergreens of the sechach—the roof, made of materials grown from the ground—and read the sign saying that it was a Chabad sukkah. They also recited the “Leshev” and “Shehecheyanu” blessings as a family, noting that it was their first time observing the mitzvah of sukkah this holiday season.

There are Chabad sukkahs in public spaces on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, including the ones along the Esplanade (East 84th Street), John Jay Playground (East 77th Street and Cherokee Place), Rupert Park Playground (91st Street and Second Avenue), Samuel Seabury Playground (96th Street and Lexington Avenue), as well as the five sukkahs on roofs and balconies at the Chabad House (419 East 77th St.), answer an issue all too familiar to Jewish urban-dwellers.

Photo: Howard Blas
The Chabad school’s gimmel class made paper chains and other decorations.
“We have a unique challenge here, where even the wealthiest can’t easily put up a sukkah since they don’t have spaces that look up to the sky,” Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski, director of Chabad Lubavitch Upper East Side in New York City, tells And so, he says, “it is more critical than ever to build sukkahs in public spaces.”

In Manhattan, few people live in homes with backyards, courtyards or porches with an unobstructed view of the sky. Residents wishing to fulfill the mitzvah of sitting and eating meals in a sukkah usually need to visit a local synagogue. While some shul sukkahs are open to the public, they are only accessible at certain hours.

The Chabad sukkahs and a special pedi-sukkah (attached to the back of a tricycle)—parked at 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue when not being used around the neighborhood—make it easier for Upper East Side residents to observe the mitzvah. Insists Krasnianski: “We need to make sure that no Jew is left behind!”

Photo: Howard Blas
A pedi-sukkah meets neighborhood needs.
Chabad’s public sukkahs are not limited to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, of course. Dozens of public sukkahs dot New York City and thousands more are erected globally—in every city, town and country in the world with a Chabad center, as well as in small, remote Jewish communities where Chabad rabbinical students, known as “Roving Rabbis,” travel for the holidays.

Shaking Lulav: ‘A Positive Jolt’

Local rabbis say they appreciate Chabad’s efforts to bring the holiday of Sukkot, which lasts until sundown on Oct. 11, to residents and visitors in the city.

Rabbi Ben Skydell of Congregation Orach Chaim, at 1459 Lexington Ave., near two Chabad sukkahs in the parks, notes: “In a city where people often feel that they have no spiritual home, these sukkahs provide a place not only for holiday’s mitzvot, but also a place to call home.”

Photo: Howard Blas
“Welcome” to the 77th Street sukkah
Rabbi Elie Weinstock of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, at 125 E. 85th St., says “having sukkahs available is a nice, friendly touch in a busy and often anonymous city. The phrase, ‘Let all who are hungry come and eat’ isn’t just for Pesach!”

Add to that 30 yeshivah students who walk the streets of the Upper East Side during Sukkot, giving people the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav and etrog. Krasnianski says the Chabad sukkahs in the park are also staffed to help with the mitzvahs of Sukkot and to teach about the holiday.

“For some people, this is the first time in their life to hold the lulav and etrog, and sit in the sukkah,” he says. “Waving the lulav gives a positive jolt—to stand tall and erect with Jewish pride.”

While now in the midst of the intermediate days of Sukkot, Upper East Side rabbis are also looking forward to the annual Simchat Torah celebration on Oct. 12, held jointly with Kehillat Jeshurun.

“Thousands come to the fair, filling the streets,” says Krasnianski. “We bring the joy of the holiday right out to the people!”

Photo: Howard Blas
Chabad Lubavitch Upper East Side

Photo: Howard Blas
The sukkah at the East River Esplanade at East 84th Street
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