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The Aluminum Sukkah

The Aluminum Sukkah

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After seventy years of Communism, building a sukkah in public in Russia is like the thawing of the snow at the end of the winter. Even in the farthest reaches of Siberia it warms the Jewish heart.

In the last decades, Judaism has come to life across Russia--and when it comes to the festival of Sukkot it is really a open miracle, since this holiday was almost completely forgotten because of the dangers and risks of attempting to put up a sukkah or obtain a lulav and etrog.

I want to share with you a story I heard a few weeks ago, while I visited Kazan, Russia, a city in the largely Muslim Tatarstan region.

After a beautiful morning prayer service in synagogue led by the Chief Rabbi of Kazan, Yitzchok Garelik, I was introduced to Moshe Adinov, a middle aged dentist and a regular participant in the daily minyan (prayer quorum). I asked him how it came to be that he comes to synagogue every day. He told me the following remarkable Sukkot story that I must pass on to you here, as I remember him telling it to me:

"My father was R' Nachum Eliyahu Adinov. He was a sofer (Torah scribe) in Kazan before World War II. He kept the traditions in our home, but of course there was no Jewish school. I went to public school even on Shabbat. A lot of tradition was weakened. Nevertheless, I remember growing up with as many Jewish traditions and holidays as were possible.

"My father was afraid for my future. He always warned me not to repeat to others what we did at home. 'Be a Jew at home and a Russian in the street,' he said. I would have never been accepted at university had I been a practicing Jew.

"We lived in a small wooden home--not in an apartment building like most people. We had a besedka, basically a porch, in the back of our home. Every year we'd celebrate Sukkot. My father would cover the roof with leaves and foliage. We'd invite over many Jewish friends. The secret was that the only sukkah in town was in our house. My father would make kiddush on wine, tell stories and gently speak to us, and this memory of Sukkot always stayed with me.

"My father died in 1965, and I inherited the house. I wanted to keep that Sukkot tradition alive, to continue the tradition for my children. I thought that, due to his limited means, all my father was able to do was put up trees and foliage. I wanted to do better than him! I had friends in the steel industry, and every year since 1965, I put up a sturdy aluminum roof on the besedka. I was proud that I continued my father's tradition."

"In 1998, Chabad-Lubavitch sent Rabbi Yitzchok Garelik and his wife Chana here. It was so beautiful to have a young Jewish family celebrating in public what I always did secretly. It was incredible for me. That year, Rabbi Garelik said to me, 'Reb Moshe, tomorrow night is Sukkot--I want you to come to the beautiful sukkah we built.' When I walked into the sukkah, I saw Rabbi Garelik in his holiday finest, holding an overflowing glass of wine, candles shining in his face--and foliage, branches and trees above his head!

"I couldn't contain my emotions. I began to cry. I suddenly realized that what my father did was the way it's supposed to be, and for the last 30 years, by placing an aluminum roof, I wasn't doing it the right way. I had only meant to make the sukkah more beautiful!

"Rabbi Garelik asked me to tell my story, and then he said to me: 'Your father is looking down from Heaven with all the great Jews of the past and smiling--and I promise you, G‑d had the utmost pleasure from the beauty of your sukkah with the aluminum roof more than any sukkah in the world with the appropriate foliage, because you did it with such love and sincerity.' Since then, I have continued to learn and understand our traditions. Since then, I and my family are involved as part of the community and today celebrate all the holidays with their rich fullness."

In Russia today, sukkahs are mostly built at the synagogues, since it is very difficult to build near apartment buildings. So Sukkot becomes this incredible community event. Despite the cold, everyone comes out--with so many people all singing, spending family time, laughing and talking, and enjoying words of Torah, the sukkah keeps us all warm.

This is the true story of Sukkot in Russia--how, like the spark of Jewishness itself, Communism never was able to truly stamp Sukkot out.

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz works at Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY.
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Harry J Shelhamer October 10, 2011

I'm smiling! Cool story! Reply

Anonymous September 26, 2010

the sukkah what is done through the heart is always best. Reply

Anonymous jerusalem, N.A. September 21, 2010

strict halacha of course G-d loved this mans deeds, but to reply to some remarks made about intention without halacha: it is still incumbent upon us to learn and abide by halacha strictly AND continue doing it with love. If a husband would bring his wife a toolbox for her birthday out of the utmost love, of course she would understand he misunderstood her desires and did it lovingly, but he needs to the best of his ability strive to understand and fulfill her desires - that is true love, if he were uninterested in learning what she needs and remain ignorant giving her a yearly dose of tools sure that he was doing good because its what HE thinks is good, that is missing the point. This man understood his error and lovingly changed to fulfill g-ds original will, in this way g-d sees that this man was truly doing everything out of love up until now. Reply

Anonymous October 5, 2009

To RD Yes, when a person, through no fault of his or her own, is ignorant of the correct halachos, G-d counts their pure and sincere intentions as equal to or better than one doing the mitzvah with all of its details.

In other words, G-d has "true pleasure" from a) Jews doing what He told them to, and b) Jews doing their best to do what they think G-d wants them to do. Reply

RD bklyn, usa October 5, 2009

and the lesson is so it's "love and sincerity" that count, that give G-d the "utmost pleasure" - not doing the mitzvah strictly according to halacha Reply

inspired via chabadla.org August 25, 2008

beautiful lesson
thanks Reply

Mellisa J NY, NY via jewishmoscow.com October 24, 2005

Thanks-keep writing Avraham, Thank you so much for writing,
Now that we have left Moscow, we look forward to reading more of your articles and hearing your tales and stories that have always inspired us.
Best, Reply

Molly Resnick NY, NY via jewishtrivalley.com October 23, 2005

Truly a heart waaarming story. thanx... a gut yom tov and best regards, Reply

Anonymous Manchester, United Kingdom October 23, 2005

Alluminium sukkah Wow, what an awe inspiring story, just right for the end of Tishrei. Reply

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