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Sukkot in Voronezh

Sukkot in Voronezh

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A parade in the center of the city of Voronezh
A parade in the center of the city of Voronezh

For 25 years, I have spent the holiday of Sukkot eating in a sukkah. And while I can say that I always loved the exotic palm scent that permeates the whole festival, always enjoyed the elbowing and squashing that comes with a sukkah packed to capacity, and the rainwater that cooled and diluted our soup, I can never say I treasured the sukkah. It was a mitzvah that came to me. The sukkah was built by workmen; the sechach, the green leafy branches that cover the sukkah, were ordered and lovingly placed on top by my father. Even when I actually participated by knocking in a nail or two in the one-man sukkah my husband built the first year we were married, I cannot say that I went out of my way to get it done.

I have seen many sukkot in my time: the ones that dot the neighborhood in my hometown, tiny sukkot perched on top of apartment buildings in Jerusalem, sukkot sailing down the canals in Venice, and tastefully decorated sukkot complete with heating and air-conditioning. But this year, I finally have my sukkah.

Living in the middle of Russia, sukkot are hard to come byLiving in a large city in the middle of Russia, sukkahs are hard to come by. Apartment living has made it almost impossible to build a sukkah anywhere in town. For months, we thought about what we would do about a it. Our apartment building had no private parking lot, and was 10 stories high, so the fenceless roof was out of the question. A sukkah on the street, although it may seem quaint for a few minutes, would probably not last much longer than that. We briefly thought about erecting a mobile sukkah on a truck and parking it somewhere for the holiday, but worried it would suffer the same fate as would a sukkah on the street. Anyhow, we reasoned, we need a real sukkah, where people could come and eat cold soup, and sit for a long time singing and telling stories. Somehow, a truck just wouldn’t do it.

We got to work, and assigned all of our friends the task of finding us a house to rent for the holiday. The house was not important, but the garden was. We needed space to build a sukkah that would not be disturbed for eight days. Nobody knew anyone who owned a house and was willing to rent it out for two weeks. Our friend, a real estate agent, told us he honestly did not think it would happen, and we knew what he meant. It had taken us months to find a home for ourselves; a temporary home for a sukkah in the center of the city was a bit much to ask for. We discussed where to go if we had to leave for the holiday. Israel? Europe? We searched the Internet for tickets, but we didn’t buy. Maybe tomorrow would bring us our sukkah.

The night following Yom Kippur, when it is a custom to begin building the sukkah or at least to discuss the building of the sukkah, we found it. A friend, who came to pick up a challah to break his fast, mentioned that he would call his friend the following day. She lived in a small home, an hour’s walk from the city center. Her sister’s husband’s paternal grandfather was Jewish. Maybe she would agree to move out of her home for a week so that we could build a sukkah in her small garden and celebrate the holiday. A day or two later, we heard the great news—the woman had agreed, for a price. But we didn’t care; we had our sukkah.

We arrived with minutes to spare and a gaggle of people waiting outsideThe last two days before Sukkot were a frenzy of measuring, shopping, building, cutting and shlepping way into the night. We had little time to talk to each other as we raced between cooking in our apartment, finding sechach and trucking it to the home, inviting guests and packing. The climax of it all was standing outside our apartment with baby, suitcases, pots and pans in tow, and waiting for the two taxis to arrive to take us to our new home in time for the holiday. We arrived with minutes to spare and a gaggle of people waiting outside to receive their lulav and etrog to bless on the holiday. But that night, as darkness fell outside and we sat in the sukkah with our guests who were sitting in a sukkah for the first time, they commented on the otherworldly atmosphere in the sukkah. And I had to agree that while I had heard many a story of sukkahs built in Siberia, and even of my own husband’s grandfather who had built one in a concentration camp, I had never before experienced the true joy of the holiday.

This year, I didn’t need philosophy or mysticism to explain to anyone the joy of the sukkah. We felt it throughout the holiday as we cheerfully answered our guests, who all entered our sukkah with the same question. “So, we know the story of Passover, and understand what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about, but what is Sukkot?” On Sukkot, we commemorate the 40 years we wandered in the desert, under G‑d’s protection. Simply speaking, G‑d took care of us, takes care of us, and we remember this by leaving our homes and sitting in a sukkah.

And so we do. Even if we have nowhere to go and live in an un-sukkah-friendly city. G‑d takes care of that, too. And that is the beauty of our sukkah, and something to sing about.

Brynie Stiefel lives in Voronezh, Russia, with her husband and two children. Together they serve the needs of the local Jewish community, and are the local Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 4, 2012

What succored YOU This is a lovely story, about the determination to have a sukka of one's own, and the difficulty in finding a suitable place to build one. What really hit me in this story, and hits me constantly in reading and hearing the stories of others, is the Divine Providence, that brings people to where the heart yearns to go. As in, you found that house, and it happened when people said, it's not going to happen. I see the greater hand of G_d in all this, as you must, and to see this, is beautiful, because it is hidden, in all the loving details, and yet, so visible, once seen and part of the, scene. This is truly a beautiful story that does illustrate this.I have been telling my class on wilderness to look carefully at the books we are studying, because the threads that drew these people towards doing what was hard, are miraculous, in terms of how it all happens. IT happens to us all. See it, and marvel!

Strangely, speaking of Providence, my Diary of Divine Providence is in Providence, RI. Reply

M. Gordon Melbourne, Australia October 3, 2012

Inside and Out You truly live what you teach, inside and out. Much success! Reply

Anonymous helsinki, fin October 3, 2012

"BH" Amen Reply

Krana Nebenzahl :-) Brooklyn, NY October 3, 2012

My grandfather was from Veronezh, and I did not know until I spotted your article that it still existed, let alone had Shluchim! I became frum (observant) through Lubavitch and currently live in Crown Heights. My Zaidy is gone now, but I have fond memories of his recollections of shtedtel life in Veronezh when he was a boy. So amazed to know it was a city (I thought it was a town) and that Yiddishkeit there is alive and well! May Hashem reveal Moshiach IMMEDIATELY, so we may be reunited with our loved ones and our ancestors once again. All the best, and have a Happy, Healthy, SWEET New Year! Reply

shoshana hiya noth miami, amot naftali October 8, 2009

sukka in russia thank you for being there! Reply

y.watts October 8, 2009

if your succah is anything like your parents was which im sure it is your guests must of had a gr8 experience. may Hashem continue to rain his blessings on you all. Moshiach now! Reply

Miriam Cohen Melbourne, Australia October 6, 2009

Thanks for sharing Brynie. May you continue to have joy from your shlichus, May we all sit together in the sukkah Hashem will build at the time of the complete redemption, immediately. Reply

ella blesofsky Melbourne, Australia October 20, 2008

Just great Beautifully written Brynie and moving. Beth Rivkah Melbourne is proud Reply

Anonymous new york, NY October 16, 2008

it's amazing you are just amazing people. may you have all of G-d's blessings and continue giving the rebbe tons of nachas (joy) moshiach now!!!! Reply

Anonymous Melbourne, Australia October 15, 2008

So beautiful! May you enjoy only good times and much hatzlochah! Reply

Eleanor Gibson Grayland, Washington October 14, 2008

Challenge WOW !!! Your are someone special!!! Reply

dl October 12, 2008

Very special. Hazlocho Rabba (much success) in your holy work. Reply

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