In 2009, 16-year-old Levi Duchman had a zany idea: Why not build a mobile sukkah—one pulled by a bike? It was a concept that made sense to a teenager, and it turned out not to be so zany. Today, pedi-sukkahs spin their wheels in dozens of cities in four different countries.

The sukkah—an outdoor wood or canvas booth covered with a thatched roof—is an integral part of the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, which begins on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 18. It’s where Jews eat, study, pray and generally spend their time the entire week. For those who don’t have their own sukkah, a pedi-sukkah allows visitors the chance to eat something inside and wave the four different kinds of plants, or Four Species, represented by the lulav and etrog as prayers are recited.

“The concept has really developed in waves,” says Duchman between phone calls from Chabad emissaries placing last-minute orders for vehicles of their own. “In 2009, I saw a pedi-cab and was inspired to build the first pedi-sukkah. In 2010, I rented 10 tricycles, and we had a fleet. In time for Sukkot 2011, I purchased 10 tricycles of my own, and we doubled our numbers. Now, there are between 30 and 40 pedi-sukkahs in places like Portland, Oregon, and as far away as Brussels, Belgium.”

It has evolved as well. While Duchman’s first models sported lattice-like sukkahs built on heavy wooden frames, which required extensive assembly work every year, those now in use are made of canvas mesh that the wind can blow through. And they can be assembled without a single tool.

The new design is the result of a partnership between Duchman and Wayne Sosin, president of Worksman Cycles, which has been producing cargo bikes, industrial bikes and adult tricycles since the turn of the 20th century.

Even though many of the 25,000 vehicles they turn out annually are used to transport cargo, crafting a platform that would be stable enough for people to step on and off proved challenging. The problem was neatly solved by designing a step placed at the base of the platform, which makes for easier access and a sturdier sukkah.

The company, based in Ozone Park, N.Y., also makes a deluxe model that can be propelled by a motor after a long day of pedaling.

Sosin says the pedi-sukkah is definitely one of the more unique projects he has worked on since joining the company in 1979; in fact, it required more customization than normally allowed for projects of this size.

“We have given Levi an unusual amount of freedom” to create his product, Sosin says, “because he is such a wonderful young man and because he doesn’t take no for an answer.”

Working with the craftsmen there, Duchman also designed the vehicles to be year-round “mitzvah-cycles.” On Chanukah, they can pull a menorah; before Passover, they hold matzah for distribution; at other times, they convert into tefillin booths. Duchman says they’ve even been used as a Chabad on campus kosher hot dog stand.

Making the blessings on the Four Species last year in New York.
Making the blessings on the Four Species last year in New York.

While he was always familiar with sukkahs, Sosin says that working with Duchman has taught him a lot more about halachic requirements for sukkah construction.

As far back as Roman times, the ancient sages of Israel taught that it was permissible to build a sukkah on a boat, chariot or even on the back of a camel. They also established that a sukkah must be at least 10 handbreadths tall. Yet it is hard to imagine that anyone foresaw the same laws being applied alongside those of aerodynamics to design a sukkah on wheels.

The Idea Catches On

Aside from the sukkah vehicles produced by Duchman, the concept has caught on with Chabad emissaries all over the world, especially those in urban centers.

One such person is Rabbi Yudi Winterfeld, whose Chabad center serves the urban Mile End area of Montreal, Canada, a historically Jewish immigrant neighborhood that has seen an explosion of growth demographically. Still home to a sizable Chassidic community, a young artsy crowd—attracted to the architecture and proximity to the city center—has moved in alongside stalwart Francophones.

But over the years, the groups have wrestled with certain religious issues, particularly over the construction of sukkahs on home balconies. The issues raised include those of an aesthetic nature and a yen for condo conformity, along with a reluctance to have other groups’ religious symbols proliferate on balconies throughout the year.

Winterfeld says his sukkah helps break some of that tension.

“We live in an area known for its many bike paths and pedestrian-only streets, so it really made sense for us,” says Winterfeld, whose sukkah cycle was based on a retrofitted baby bike-trailer.

Wayne Sosin, president of Worksman Cycles, with Levi Duchman
Wayne Sosin, president of Worksman Cycles, with Levi Duchman

“It is amazing to see how much dialogue it created,” he continues. “I parked in front of someone’s house and before you know it, there was a crowd of people gathered. They had lots of questions, and I was really happy to answer them. They were so thankful that we able to dialogue about something that they had seen and heard about, but never experienced firsthand.”

Over in Portland, Ore., known for its pioneering spirit of rugged individuality, Rabbi Chaim Wilhelm has launched an online indiegogo campaign asking people to help fund his dream set of wheels: a full-service mitzvah cycle.

As of the day before Sukkot, 28 supporters had pledged more than $1,500 dollars for the vehicle.

Another sukkah cycle was purchased by Rabbi Hersh and Fraidy Loschak, who are in the midst of establishing a new Chabad center serving Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. The rabbi plans to ride his new vehicle around campus, introducing himself and offering students the opportunity to climb aboard, shake the lulav and etrog, and grab a quick bite, thus fulfilling the two central mitzvahs of the Sukkot holiday.

“It’s going to make lots of noise,” he says hopefully.

Pedi-sukkah made from an old kiddie stroller on the streets of Montreal last year.
Pedi-sukkah made from an old kiddie stroller on the streets of Montreal last year.