The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season’s 13th named storm, which wreaked havoc on many Central American nations with torrential rains and their associated landslides and flooding, spared Costa Rica, allowing its Jewish residents and tourists – who spent much of the last two weeks eating in thatched-roof huts as part of their annual Sukkot celebrations – to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

As they headed into the holiday Sept. 23, Chabad-Lubavitch of Costa Rica directors Rabbi Hershel and Chana Spalter, feared the worst. Media outlets throughout the region warned that the fast-developing Tropical Storm Matthew would make landfall as a hurricane and advised people to stock up on bottled water and candles.

In the capital of S. Jose, the Spalters had anticipated rainfall – the tropics get more than their fair share of moisture this time of year – and had even designed their central sukkah with a slanted roof to facilitate runoff. But the structure, as well as the Chabad House’s one other sukkah in the city and two more in the oceanfront resorts of Jaco and S. Teresa, would likely not survive hurricane-force winds.

At the last minute, the storm switched course.

“We’ve had very heavy rainfall every day of Sukkot this year, much heavier than usual,” noted Chana Spalter. “It’s a peripheral storm that we’re getting instead of the hurricane itself. Thank G‑d, it hasn’t kept people away.”

Final tallies indicated that hundreds of people ate in the largest of the Spalters’ huts. Hundreds more took part in festivities run by eight Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students brought to the nation for the holiday season.

Jewish children hold the Four Species on a Costa Rican beach.
Jewish children hold the Four Species on a Costa Rican beach.

Cambodia Cruise

Thousands of miles away in Seattle, inhospitable weather was the last of many obstacles facing Rabbi Elie and Chaya Estrin, whose Chabad House serves the University of Washington. This year, the school’s fall quarter began after the end of the holidays, leading the Estrins to hope for the best, but anticipate a lower-than-normal turnout for their Sukkot services and festive meals.

As the multiday holiday drew to a close last week, Chaya Estrin said that a bunch of incoming freshmen unexpectedly stopped by. All told, between 50 and 60 students attended each of the Sukkot meals.

“We’re very happy with the turnout this year,” remarked Estrin, “especially with the fact that so many freshman have come to the Chabad House. We’re hoping to really expand our programs and the number of students participating this year. This has been an excellent start.”

At Chabad of South Kensington in London, England, meanwhile, local Jewish college students similarly pronounced the third-annual Sukkot celebrations hosted by Rabbi Mendy and Sara Lowenthal to be a success.

“This is a very big time of year for us,” said third-year graduate student Caroline Glassberg-Powell. “It’s cold outside, but the sukkah is warm and cozy with everyone together. It’s a very special and vibrant atmosphere.”

In the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia, where visiting Rabbis Naftali Linkowitz of Canada and Dovid Rosenfeld of Brooklyn, N.Y., coordinated holiday activities, Jewish travelers and residents spent part of Sukkot cruising area waters. They danced throughout the night and dined on kosher barbeque inside a specially-built deck-top sukkah.

Rosenfeld said it was the perfect way to energize the populace for the concluding holiday of Simchat Torah, which began last Thursday night.

“It was a unique way to celebrate and people enjoyed it very much,” he remarked. “Everyone was looking forward to even more dancing.”