There’s nothing like last week’s pounding rain and 50 mph winds to remind sukkah-dwellers of the impermanence of the sukkah as a symbol.
Still, when you can borrow a set from the synagogue that has a 10-minute set-up time or, better yet, have the synagogue bring the sukkah to you in a Sukkah-Mobile, that’s an enticing deal. For Rabbi David Straus of Main Line Reform Temple, it’s a deal he’s more than happy to offer.
“We want to give every opportunity to be able to participate in Jewish life,” he said. “We want to make it easy, and we want to make it fun.”
That was the idea three years ago when MLRT began its sukkah-lending program. With an assist from the MLRT Brotherhood, the synagogue bought a handful of sukkot for lending. Why not, Straus and other members of the executive team wondered, make it as easy as possible for congregants to take part in the holiday?
After all, a sukkah is no small expenditure, and if the synagogue could pitch in, it would free up congregants to host other congregants in their now-subsidized sukkot. Right after the program was announced, Straus said, the demand outpaced the supply. Today, the synagogue has 11 sukkot to lend, with a growing waiting list.
“When I described this to parents, I would tell you quite literally, before I could finish describing what we wanted to do, people had texted me, and I already had a waiting list for people who wanted more sukkot,” he said.
This year’s program of “lowering the barriers” to Jewish life, in Straus’ words, involved a new element: the Sukkah-Mobile.
Straus and a small contingent from the synagogue decided that they would bring a sukkah, lulav and etrog to congregants who lived in apartment buildings and complexes with a high concentration of their co-congregants. They’d have a bite to eat, have some conversation and then head off to their next destination.
If you’re envisioning a trailer or a flatbed laden with a sukkah speeding down Interstate 76, you’re not alone — that was Straus and Associate Rabbi Kevin Kleinman’s original idea. Eventually, that was scrapped, and Straus’ tightly packed station wagon became the Sukkah-Mobile.
As with any first-year program, it was a learning experience, according to Gil Marder.
Marder is the member engagement and programs manager at MLRT, and rode around with Straus during the bad weather last week. That was one factor, he said, that often led to the shaking of the lulav and etrog and a nice social nosh in someone’s warm apartment, rather than a sukkah in the parking lot.
The weather late last week didn’t just affect the ability of the Sukkah-Mobile to provide a standing structure; the sukkot that were lent out had their own battles to fight. There were “mixed reviews on withstanding the high winds,” Kleinman said. By what he heard, the structures remained upright, though the s’chach did not fare as well.
Another factor to consider for next year’s iteration of the Sukkah-Mobile, Straus said, will involve identifying apartment buildings a bit earlier. Management at many of the apartments or condos took longer to approve a sukkah in their parking lots than he and the other Sukkah-Mobilers anticipated, and others flatly refused. Still, Straus said, people were appreciative of the efforts.
Complications or not, it’s all part of an effort on MLRT’s part to help “add to the repertoire of Jewish life,” Kleinman said. The number of sukkot that the synagogue lends out has grown significantly since its first year, and the Sukkah-Mobile will start to fill some gaps that the lending program can’t. The idea is to keep growing the number of sukkot in the program, Kleinman said, without sacrificing the ideal — that those who borrow one year might decide to buy their own the next.
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