Just before Epcot Center’s ticket counters, to the right of guest relations, visitors to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., can expect to see a sign welcoming them to a specially-erected sukkah.

Sponsored for the past eight years by Chabad-Lubavitch of South Orlando, the temporary hut covered with branches – a fixture of the weeklong Jewish holiday known as Sukkot that begins Wednesday night – gives guests headed to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and other parks served by the resort’s tram and bus service a way to celebrate the festival at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. For the past several days, Disney has been setting up lights and seating spaces, and Rabbi Yosef Konikov has been making arrangements so that there’ll be rabbinical students on hand to give people the opportunity to make a blessing on the Four Species.

(To find Sukkot-related events in your area, visit Judaism website Chabad.org’s worldwide holiday directory by clicking here.)

Konikov says that every year, hundreds of guests brownbag their meals or purchase kosher food inside the parks and sit down in the Disney sukkah to eat. “The most exciting part is when you watch people walk up and see the expressions on their faces,” he adds. “It’s something they definitely don’t expect.”

Similarly, motorists on the Adirondack Northway – the section of Interstate 87 from Albany to Canada – can find sukkahs near up to 10 different turnoffs between Exit 15 and Montreal. Open to residents and visitors passing through, the sukkahs are being erected next to synagogues, Chabad Houses, and an area supermarket.

“The supermarket has a big kosher section, and people can of course bring their own food,” says Rabbi Israel Rubin, director of Chabad of the Capital Region, whose office fields calls every year from tourists looking for sukkahs in such places as Cooperstown and its Baseball Hall of Fame and downtown Albany.

Some people stop for a pick-up prayer service, others just for the novelty of being able to eat at a sukkah on the road. Having sukkahs along the well-traveled route challenges the idea that sukkahs are locked into houses or a “synagogue thing,” explains Rubin. “This is telling you that wherever you go there can be a sukkah, that they’re available wherever people go, at least along the Northway.”

In addition to being meaningful for travelers, the local community likes it, too.

“They see people driving for miles for the sake of the sukkah and it inspires them,” says Rubin.

Palm branches outside a sukkah in Puerto Rico (Photo: Levi Stein)
Palm branches outside a sukkah in Puerto Rico (Photo: Levi Stein)

Beating the Heat

Over in California, Chabad of Palm Springs and Desert Communities director Rabbi Yonason Denebeim is gearing up to share Sukkot with vacation and corporate travelers as well as the inmates he visits weekly in two nearby prisons. The big event in town this year will be a community-wide knowledge-based contest around the themes of Judaism and Sukkot, to be held Monday night.

The community also participates in an annual “sukkah-hop” that takes packs of 20 to 150 people around town to visit various Sukkot destinations.

“Every night it’s a different sukkah, sometimes two or three sukkahs in a night,” says Denebeim. “We encourage people to share their homes and hospitality.”

As for the weather, they’re expecting a temperate 103 degrees, a twist from the chilly Brooklyn, N.Y., sukkah nights the rabbi remembers as a teen. Still, people get together with friends for gourmet feasts and words of Torah shared, like their ancestors before them, in a structure designed to only last through the holiday.

Down in the Lone Star State, college students at the University of Texas are building two sukkahs: one at the local Chabad House run by alumnus Rabbi Zev Johnson and his wife Ariela, and another on campus three blocks away. Plans for the holiday include a sushi instructional for singles, a freshman pizza-making event, and visits to dormitories, fraternities and sororities so that Jewish students can make a blessing on the Four Species.

“We expect hundreds of students throughout Sukkot,” says the rabbi, pointing to an energy level unique among university students. “A Jewish holiday on campus is something words can’t describe.”