At Brooklyn’s Sukkah Depot, “business is booming” for those who want to buy what is billed as the “Rolls Royce of Sukkahs,” according to customer service representative Dovid Efune. The pre-fabricated sukkah is made out of laminated, pressed-wooden panels with an aluminum frame, and it’s 100% waterproof. It also has rubber seals that cover the sukkah’s metal joints to keep out the water, and the sturdy pressed wood holds up better against the wind than the more common canvas or plastic counterparts. And this year, for the first time, Sukkah Depot is selling a shlak, or rain cover, to protect sukkot from precipitation.
“Wood withstands the weather best,” said Rabbi Moshe Feller, director of Chabad-Lubavitch in the upper Midwest. Feller has been hawking pre-fabricated wooden sukkot to Jews in Minnesota since the 1960s. “Here, we’re not just the chosen people; we’re the frozen chosen,” he said. “It’s clear the only reason you are going outside is to fulfill the commandment of God, to dwell in the sukkot.”
In fact, no matter where they live, Jews — secular and religious alike — often question the timing of the holiday. “The whole concept of Sukkot to be in the fall makes no sense,” Buffalo’s Taub said. “It should be around the time of Passover; that’s when the Exodus [from slavery in Egypt] happened.”
Of course, the Torah commandment to eat and sleep in one’s sukkah allows for exemptions when facing inclement weather. “Someone who has significant discomfort is relieved from his duty of this mitzvah,” Taub said. But many rabbinic authorities suggest making the ritual blessing over wine and bread before heading indoors; stricter rabbis suggest that the exemption refers only to sleeping in the sukkah.
“To say that the cold weather should exempt us from eating in the sukkah is farfetched,” Taub said. “Although Buffalo is a cold city, it’s also a football city. Tailgating in the freezing cold is part of being a Buffalonian. When it comes to a half-hour eating in the sukkah, to weather the storm is something we do.”
In Bangor, Cantor — who grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba — pointed out that some “sane, normal people do winter camping” and survive, let alone enjoy themselves. When he lived in Canada, he said, “Usually we suffered, but my wife and I believe in eating our meal in the sukkah. We put [up] two sets of tarp to make an insulation effect, put a space heater under the table that didn’t make a difference. We wore winter coats and gloves.”
“Practically speaking,” Minnesota’s Feller said, “it’s really the sign that you are doing it for a mitzvah, not just to have a nice time on the patio.”