With safety and precautions top of mind, Chabad-Lubavitch is calling for anyone able to construct their own sukkah and obtain their own lulav and etrog with the goal of, wherever possible, safely sharing the holiday celebration with those around them, if even just their own immediate family. The Chabad movement is also preparing to assist Jews worldwide celebrate the joyous holiday of Sukkot in the age of pandemic while keeping to local health guidelines.

This year’s Sukkot—observed in 2020 from before sundown on Friday, Oct. 2, ending after nightfall on Friday, Oct. 9—will be the first in the age of the coronavirus, bringing with it the constrictions and opportunities of these strange times. The seven-day holiday commemorates the wandering of the Jews in the desert on their way to the Promised Land and the miraculous clouds that surrounded them, and is immediately followed by the especially joyous two-day holiday of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which ends at nightfall on Sunday, Oct. 11.

It was the unity of the Jewish people that the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—stressed when he first launched his Sukkot Campaign in the fall of 1953, and was a theme he constantly sounded in the years that followed. Over the course of Sukkot, the Jewish people are commanded to dwell in the sukkah, a walled structure covered with organic material, and the Rebbe would regularly note that this applied equally to all, from the greatest of rabbis to the simplest of lay people. The Talmud even speaks of the big Sukkah, within which the entire Jewish people can dwell. The same unifying principle appears in the mitzvah of the arba minim, the Four Kinds, in which Jews combine and make a blessing on the four different species of etrog, lulav, myrtle and willow branches.

Chabad has ever since been bringing the holiday of Sukkot and its celebrations to Jews of all stripes and wherever they may be, inviting them to step inside the sukkah and make a blessing over the lulav and etrog. On most years, the scene of young and old out in the streets armed with the long green lulav and yellow etrog asking passersby if they’d like to make a blessing would not be an unusual one.

Utilizing tools old and new, Chabad-Lubavitch centers across the globe are putting the finishing touches on their corona-safe Sukkot plans. At Chabad of Madison, Wis., a community schedule has been put up where anyone can sign up for a 15-minute slot in the sukkah for themselves and their family.

“We welcome anyone in the community to safely experience the joy of the holiday in our sukkah,” explains Chabad of Madison’s Rabbi Avremel Matusof. And he’s serious about it: With hundreds of prepackaged individual snacks, anyone can come and enjoy a blessing and bite inside.

The Sukkah Mobile is ready to roll in Mobile, Ala.
The Sukkah Mobile is ready to roll in Mobile, Ala.

Rabbi Shmuel Glitsenstein, a Chabad emissary in Hungary and the rabbi of the Zsilip synagogue in downtown Budapest, has already taken to sea (or river) this year to bring holiday observance to the Jewish community. Over the Rosh Hashanah holiday, he rented the deck of a floating hotel on the Danube to hold open-air services. For Sukkot, he plans on doing the same, erecting a large, airy sukkah on the floating deck for all to use.

With many families celebrating Sukkot at home alone for the first time, this year in particular Chabad emissaries are drawing on their construction expertise to guide local Jews in constructing their own kosher sukkah. Many Chabad centers are also offering full Sukkot-at-Home kits including all the holiday essentials—the lulav and etrog, a holiday guide, prayer book, candles and traditional treats.

Chabad.org editors have created a unique guide to celebrating Sukkot at home, written this year for those who have been shut in by the pandemic. The Chabad.org/Sukkot holiday site also includes a trove of how-to guides (including a How to Build a COVID-Safe Sukkah), printable tools, video tutorials, and virtual pre-holiday experiences and classes to help everyone celebrate the holiday—with its overt theme of unity—wherever they may be, even in isolation.

The Sukkah Comes to You

Chabad in Munich, Germany, has secured lulav and etrog sets, and is scheduling sales by appointment with masks and social distancing. For anyone unable to come purchase a set, Chabad will bring it to them.
Chabad in Munich, Germany, has secured lulav and etrog sets, and is scheduling sales by appointment with masks and social distancing. For anyone unable to come purchase a set, Chabad will bring it to them.

The coronavirus has made things trickier, but hardly impossible. Among Chabad’s Sukkot innovations is the iconic sukkah-mobile, constructed and placed on the back of a pickup truck or trailer. Recent years have seen the dawn of the PediSukkah, an even tinier sukkah on wheels hitched to the back of a bike. This year both will bring the holiday right to people’s doorstep, with thousands of sukkah-mobiles being constructed this year around the world.

“We were really excited about the opportunity for Mobile’s Sukkah Mobile this year,” says Rabbi Yosef Goldwasser, co-director of Chabad of Mobile, Ala., with his wife, Bina. With a lulav and etrog, trusty bottle of hand-sanitizer and a full-blown disinfecting kit to douse the sukkah-mobile in between guests, everything is mobile in Mobile. “In Sukkot we finally have a holiday meant to be celebrated outside.”

During Sukkot there will be armies of rabbis, rabbinical students, and lay volunteers who making socially-distanced house calls with a lulav and etrog to ensure that people isolating, especially those who may be COVID-vulnerable, are not forgotten on the holiday.

Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., for example, is offering personalized sukkah-mobile visits to area homes and businesses. "We'll come over and give you a few minutes to enter your temporary and safe sukkah," their sign-up form reads. "You'll be totally 'in' this mitzvah." The sukkah-mobile will of course come fully equipped with a lulav and etrog, says Valley Chabad youth director Rabbi Yosef Orenstein.

Lulav and Etrog for Everyone

Together with the sukkah, the central observance of Sukkot is bringing together the arba minim or Four Kinds, a description delineating the etrog, a citron, which has a strong sweet smell; the lulav, a date palm branch; hadasim, myrtle branches;and aravot, or willow. On the holiday the Jewish people bring together and make a blessing on these four diverse species. With their varying degrees of smell and taste, this mitzvah especially symbolizes the many different types of individuals who make up the Jewish people, without even one of whom the nation would be incomplete. This message is crucially important at all times, but especially underlines the importance of communal support and unity during this time of uncertainty and upheaval.

While the willow, myrtle and even palm frond are relatively easy to obtain, for centuries Jewish communities struggled to get a hold of kosher citrons for Sukkot use. The delicate fruit grows only in certain climates—etrogim hailing from the Calabrian coast of southern Italy are especially prized—and the laws of what makes one kosher for the holiday are complex. As such, they should only be bought from reputable merchants, who can be found in major Jewish centers worldwide. In places with relatively smaller Jewish populations, many turn to their local synagogue or rabbi to help secure the prized specimen.

In Munich, Germany, Chabad emissaries Rabbi Yochanan and Mushky Gordon annually make Sukkot supplies available by importing lulavim and etrogim and this year will be no different—with a few differences.

“We have secured many sets of lulav and etrog, and are scheduling sales by appointment only, with masks and social distancing,” Rabbi Gordon tells Chabad.org. For anyone unable to come and purchase a set on their own, Chabad will be bringing it to them.

All this means that no matter what, Chabad’s annual Sukkah Campaign is on, ready to do whatever it takes—hand sanitizer, masks and social-distancing—to help people celebrate the holiday safely and joyously.

To create a Simchat Beit Hashoevah experience that is celebratory, spiritual and user-friendly, Chabad.org has created a special user guide this year.
To create a Simchat Beit Hashoevah experience that is celebratory, spiritual and user-friendly, Chabad.org has created a special user guide this year.

Unprecedented Joy

One of the highlights of Sukkot is the Simchat Beit Hashoevah celebrations that harken back to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, when all-night dancing, singing and acrobatics would accompany the joyous drawing of water that was poured on the Altar each of the holiday’s seven days. In 1980, the Rebbe called for modern revival of the festivities of old, and ever since the celebration has taken many forms, including sit-down farbrengen gatherings in sukkahs, as well as lively dancing in the streets.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing millions to isolate and restrict their social interactions to their immediate family, many will be hosting their own Simchat Beit Hashoevah celebration at home.

To assist them in creating an experience that is celebratory, spiritual and user-friendly, Chabad.org’s Rabbi Tzvi Freeman has created a user guide. Each day, the user is provided with an easy-to-share Torah thought and story—as well as an insight into the daily ushpizin, or spiritual visitors. Coupled with links to a lively dance track for dancing at home, everything is provided, save for the refreshments and participants, which must be sourced locally.

“I’m hearing from so many about the emotional toll the coronavirus has taken on them after months of isolation and confusion,” says Freeman. “The joy of Sukkot, Simchat Beit Hashoevah, it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Forty years ago this week, the Rebbe penned a public letter ahead of the holiday of Sukkot (published recently in Kehot Publication Society’s To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere.) He explained that despite the exile and the darkness in the world, this must not dampen the joyful preparations for any holiday, much less the holiday itself, particularly not Sukkot, which is designated “the season of our rejoicing.”

“ ... [A]s in the case of [the Egyptian exile], when at the height of the surrounding darkness ‘there was light for all the children of Israel in their dwellings,’” wrote the Rebbe, “a Jew’s life, wherever he may dwell, is illuminated in all its aspects by the light of Torah and mitzvot ... .”

It is by intensifying this light in his or her own daily life, the Rebbe explains, that the individual is able to change for the better not only their own immediate surroundings, but transform the entire world.

A Sukkah mobile will make the rounds in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.
A Sukkah mobile will make the rounds in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.