With each passing day before Sukkot Jews the world over turn their faces toward the heavens, collectively wondering if the weather will hold for the seven-day festival. The holiday is a time for family, food and stargazing, but for many, it’s also a time for parkas, rain jackets, bee traps and outdoor air conditioners.

This year’s timing of Sukkot, however, has given some celebrants something extra to be happy about. Because it arrives earlier on the Gregorian calendar than usual – the night of Sept. 22, instead of sometime in October – some spots, like say in Anchorage, Alaska, will be enjoying a milder than average holiday. (For a full list of locations offering Sukkot celebrations, click here.)

“It’s going to be nicer this year than most,” said Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Alaska, where the weather in the state’s largest city is currently fluctuating between the upper 40s to low-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

A normal Sukkot in Anchorage sees the snow and bitter cold that typically begin next month, making staying warm in a sukkah a difficult task.

“We’ve tried every method in the world to warm up in the sukkah,” said Greenberg, who predicts that this year’s Sukkot weather will likely be “cold,” dipping into the 30’s and 40’s, but still a welcome change from the regular snowstorms and below-freezing temperatures.

According to Greenberg, each year, the natural roof known as schach “freezes and falls. And last year’s heaters were stolen.”

Alaskans love the holiday, and appreciate the environmentally-friendly huts and the chance to bask in the elements. This year, Greenberg’s Lubavitch Jewish Center expects 100 people Wednesday night for the holiday’s first of many festive meals.

“People love to bundle up and eat hot soup,” explained Greenberg, who has arranged a “sukkah-hopping” activity to take the city’s Jewish children to the few sukkahs around town. “The steam warms everyone up.”

Tourists check out a sukkah erected by Chabad-Lubavitch of Cancun.
Tourists check out a sukkah erected by Chabad-Lubavitch of Cancun.

From Wild to Mild

But while Alaskans have the cold to worry about, Jews in Puerto Rico are experiencing a heat wave. With temperatures in the 80s and 90s, the city of Isla Verde – home to the Caribbean island’s Chabad-Lubavitch center – is seeing hotter weather this fall than in the summer.

Still, Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, whose center is located one block from the ocean, isn’t worried.

“The weather should be beautiful and sunny, with just a gorgeous breeze off the coast,” he predicted.

For the holiday, Mendel and Rochi Zarchi will be hosting guests, including native Puerto Rican Jews, travelers and backpackers, in their large canvas sukkah.

“People are looking for a nice place to get away, but they need a sukkah,” said Zarchi. “We have daily services and a fantastic kosher kitchen at Chabad.”

On the Yucatan Peninsula, perhaps the ultimate tourist hotspot, Rabbi Mendel and Rachel Druk, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Cancun, Mexico, are placing a special focus on local families, inviting them to enjoy meals in their sukkah.

“The humidity causes some difficulty, but it’s a very special experience, there’s no question about it,” said Mendel Druk, who with the help of visiting rabbinical students, will also build three small three-foot square sukkahs in public places so that passing Jews can make a blessing inside.

“Sukkot brings back memories of childhood, and people appreciate it and are surprised when they see it on the street,” he said.

Cancun’s local Jewish community numbers in the hundreds and is comprised mostly of Americans, Canadians, Israelis and Mexicans, but the fall season also brings many travelers from Europe.

Jorge Fernandez has lived in Cancun for 20 years, and plans to spend Sukkot with Chabad.

“In the past, we’ve had a great time,” said Fernandez, who helps the Druks establish relationships with local hotels. “Hot is always hot and cold is always cold. It has never been a problem. Normally people have a very good time. Rabbi Mendel’s main goal is for people to have a good time, and they do.”

Sometimes it’s not the cold or heat that sukkah-dwellers must contend with, but rain and wind.

“The first year we were married, it was very windy on Sukkot. We sat down, and the next minute the sukkah was in the garden,” said Sora Jacobs, co-director of Chabad of Scotland in Glasgow.

Ever since then, she and her husband, Rabbi Chaim Jacobs, have reinforced their wood sukkah to make sure it can stand up to the fierce Scottish autumns.

“This time of year can be really difficult. It’s either cold or raining, and when it’s not, we get wasps,” said Sora Jacobs.

But the weather won’t keep the Jacobs down. In addition to their smaller family one, they share a sukkah with a local synagogue, making the structure the largest of its kind in Scotland. It can fit about 300 people with standing room only, or up to 150 for sit down meals.

The Jacobs are planning a party for Sunday in the community sukkah, and expect more than a dozen guests for meals at their home.

With an eye to the sky, Jacobs laughed.

“We can get there or four seasons in one day here,” she said.