The requirements for a sukkah – that temporary booth-like structure that can be seen popping up in Jewish homes’ backyards around the world in the days after Yom Kippur – are simple enough. According to Jewish law, it must have at least two-and-a-half sides and be covered with just enough plant material to provide shelter, but not enough to block a view of the stars.

To build one just might be the perfect outdoor fall activity, unless, of course, you live downtown. Jewish residents of today’s modern metropolises constantly face the same problem. In the high-rise jungle, where should they erect the holiday huts in which the Torah specifies that eating and drinking must take place throughout the course of Sukkot?

In New York City, and in several other urban areas worldwide, Chabad-Lubavitch centers are transforming public parks into full-service holiday locations this year. It’s a task fully sanctioned by the city’s parks department, says Rabbi Uriel Vigler, who lives among many Israeli expatriates on the Upper East Side.

Four years ago, Vigler moved to an apartment building in the area and weeks before Sukkot – which begins this year the night of Sept. 22 – he realized that he couldn’t just erect a hut on the sidewalk. But Ruppert Park, a block-wide oasis of green on Second Avenue between 90th and 91st Streets, would be perfect.

Officials at the parks department “were very helpful,” says Vigler, director of the Chabad Israel Center. “They understood this provides a tremendous service for the community.”

Vigler’s sukkah will return this year, and a huge party this Sunday will offer food and entertainment for the entire community. A singles barbeque is scheduled for Sept. 28, and each day of the holiday, rabbinical students will help visitors make the traditional blessing over a lulav and etrog.

“The feedback is extremely positive and encouraging,” adds Vigler. “It’s become an icon.”

A finalist in the Sukkah City design competition (Photo: New York Magazine)
A finalist in the Sukkah City design competition (Photo: New York Magazine)

Elsewhere in Gotham

Union Square Park, meanwhile, is hosting the 12 finalists in the Sukkah City international design competition organized by Reboot and the Union Square Partnership. The finalists, whose sukkah designs were selected for their originality and conformance to Jewish standards by a panel of architects, designers and critics, erected their creations on Sunday.

Although they comply with the traditional rules, these booths are anything but traditional. They range from a structure that resembles a child’s project made of popsicle sticks, to another that appears to be floating under a filmy cover of hessian.

Selected structures from the contest will also be on exhibit at the New York City Center for Architecture during the month of September.

And while people enjoy the sukkahs at Union Square Park and Ruppert Park, Jewish businessmen and women and residents will be able to eat and socialize in a giant booth erected for the past 13 years by Chabad of Midtown at Bryant Park located behind 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. According to Rabbi Yehoshua Metzger, thousands of people walk through the park every day. He’s scheduled several holiday parties to take advantage of the location.

“We’re centrally located between Times Square, Penn Station and Grand Central Station,” says Metzger. “We’re seen by masses of people. It’s our busiest, best-attended event.”