Building your own sukkah can require a fair amount of resources: poles for the frame, canvas or wood for the walls, some hard-earned sweat, and, toughest to come by for some, the outdoor space to put the hut in which Jews traditionally eat during the weeklong Sukkot holiday.
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This year, though, Jews in some cities in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia won’t need to build their own sukkah, because a sukkah on wheels may just be making its way to them — powered by Chabad Hasidim riding pedicabs.
Want to make a blessing over the holiday’s traditional four species in the pedi-sukkah? Hop on, and take a sukkah selfie while you’re at it.
Levi Duchman, a 21-year-old follower of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic sect from Brooklyn, is behind the initiative. Duchman, who is studying to be a rabbi, dreamed up the idea five years ago, when he was a yeshiva student of 16.
At the time, Chabad’s mobile sukkahs were making the rounds of New York on vans and trucks. Wandering around Manhattan and seeing the pedicabs gave him the somewhat more ecological idea that now take to the road come Sukkot.
To get to that stage, Duchman first stopped some pedicab drivers to collect information about how to rent the bikes. Then he built a single prototype with his brother. Later he built additional ones and operated them together with his friends from the yeshiva. Since then, he has continually improved the pedicabs from year to year, and now he sells them all over the world.
To build these sukkahs there’s no need for tools. Duchman worked with a manufacturer of special bicycles, and they they now come in an easy-to-assemble kit. The idea, he says, is to get as many people as possible to observe the commandments of the holiday and to make it as easy as possible to sit in a sukkah — something that can be particularly challenging in space-scarce New York.
So how does Duchman find Jews to observe the mitzvah? The mobile sukkah invites interaction, and people often approach him when they see it. The mobile sukkah arouses a great deal of excitement on the street, and is greeted by smiles and waves from both Jews and non-Jews. Recently one of the sukkah pedicabs had a flat tire, and the owner of a bicycle store was so eager to help that he didn’t let the Chabadniks pay him.
About 50 pedi-sukkahs are currently making the rounds, but they won’t be put in storage right after Sukkot. Instead, they will become “menorah cycles” over Hanukkah — the outside will be shaped like a dreidel, with a Hanukkah menorah with bulbs in the shape of candles on top. These will make the rounds of the city, and every day the relevant candle will be lit and jelly doughnuts will be distributed from them.
When Hanukkah is over, the bikes will become “mitzvah cycles” to enable Chabadniks to help passersby put on tefillin (phylacteries) or to hand out Shabbat candles.
When asked if he has any other ideas up his sleeve, Duchman says he hopes to turn the bikes into kosher food stalls soon. Have a hankering for kosher hotdogs sold by a bearded man on wheels? Depending on where you live, you may not have to wait long.