Coming alongside a New York City push to license pedicab operators, the initiative of a Jewish teenager in Brooklyn has given pedestrians and motorists an interesting site: a mobile bamboo-topped latticework hut affixed to a rickshaw.
Levi Duchman, a 16-year-old Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva student from Crown Heights, was out pedaling the contraption Monday around Grand Army Plaza, publicizing the Jewish holiday of Sukkot like never before. According to Duchman, the handmade booth has been getting quite a reaction from New Yorkers, who have likely never seen a sukkah – the walled temporary huts that Jews eat in during the seven-day holiday – transported in such a way.
“People are really getting excited,” said Duchman, whose father directs Colel Chabad, a social-services organization founded in 1788 by the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and whose brother runs the Chabad House on Roosevelt Island. “Everybody is taking out their phone and taking pictures.”
For decades now, Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim, emissaries and rabbinical students have taken mobile sukkahs – usually converted pickup trucks – through the streets of cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rome and Paris. Duchman believes, however, that his contraption is unique.
“I woke up Friday morning with this idea,” he said Tuesday before taking his younger brother and heading out for Manhattan. “I asked all the pedicab drivers where I could get one, and then went to the store and told them what I wanted to do.”
Levi Duchman says the hard part is the pedaling.
As he makes the rounds, Duchman invites Jewish men, women and children to make a special blessing on the Four Species – a combination of palm branch, willow twigs, myrtle branches and citron that are held together each day of Sukkot – and to eat a snack inside the sukkah. The hard part, he revealed, is the driving.
“Pedaling made me tired a bit,” he said after his first day.
While the city intends for all pedicab operators to be licensed by Nov. 20, Duchman said that his vehicle is decidedly temporary. After the holiday, he pointed out, sukkahs everywhere will be taken down and packed away for next year.
Anyways, he added, “all of the police officers are giving us nice waves.”