David Nimmer.

David Nimmer: Building Community, One Lunch at a Time


Thirteen years ago, David Nimmer, a 62-year-old copyright lawyer, was listening to a sermon inside the sukkah at B’nai David Congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

“In the dvar Torah from that day,” Nimmer recalled, “God says, ‘I want you to do my work.’ That’s healing the sick, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry.”

Two days later, Nimmer, B’nai David’s former president, organized breakfast in the sukkah for homeless residents of the area.

Only one homeless person came.

“Well, that was just the beginning,” he said with a chuckle.

Now in its “bar mitzvah year,” as Nimmer refers to it, B’nai David’s lunch program feeds about 100 people each month. With Nimmer as its lead architect, the program consists of two monthly lunches: one for mainly members of the Russian-Jewish community and another for all comers.

They also host special meals for the homeless on Jewish holidays and a Thanksgiving lunch that attracts about 60 guests each year.

B’nai David members, as well as student volunteers from Pressman Academy, Yeshivat Yavneh  and the Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles (YULA Boys and Girls), prepare and serve the food, which often consists of traditional Shabbos lunch dishes like cholent and cucumber-and-orange salad. To pay for the food each month, Nimmer uses his personal connections to recruit local businesses as lunch sponsors.

People from all walks of life frequent the monthly lunches — Jewish, non-Jewish, homeless and affluent. For Nimmer, the main benefit for guests, shul members and volunteers alike is the shared humanity and unlikely conversations each meal brings.

“Homeless people confound your expectations.”

“The main thing is to just have all the people mixed up and spread out so they talk to people they don’t know,” he said. “We tell the local school kids not to sit with their friends. We tell them to sit with people you don’t know and ask them where they’re from. Homeless people confound your expectations. There’s a lot of political conversation. We want these kids to know that these aren’t scary people. They have histories, stories, hopes and dreams.”

Nimmer said that many of the student volunteers, upon graduating, cite the lunches as among the most impactful memories from their high school years.

“They always talk about the interesting people they met at the lunches,” he said.

Nimmer’s wife, Marcia, and his five grown children also pitch in and help with the lunches. Over the years, many of the guests have watched his kids grow up, he said.

“The guests will see my kids … and they’ll shout at them, ‘You’re back! Where are you at in school now?’ It’s fun,” he said.

Besides the food and fellowship, Nimmer focuses on a third crucial component each month: the entertainment.

There’s typically a sermon or text study, which helps engage Jewish and non-Jewish guests in conversation. On occasion, Nimmer has invited priests or evangelical authors to speak, just to shake up things.

Other gatherings feature parlor games or musicians whom Nimmer invites to perform. At a recent lunch, Nimmer said, a homeless Jewish man who brought his guitar with him stepped in for a canceled act and performed many of Leonard Cohen’s greatest hits. He even dissected verses of “Hallelujah,” discussing their meaning, as if the lyrics were words of
the Torah.

“My takeaway is that these lunches are miraculous,” Nimmer said. “The joke is that a miracle at every lunch is the norm.”

Pressman Academy students serve at B'nai David-Judea's Sukkot breakfast for homeless people. Photo by Kelly Hartog.

B’nai David-Judea Celebrates 13 Years of Helping the Homeless


David Nimmer remembers how the idea began.

During a 2004 Torah class in B’nai David-Judea Congregation’s sukkah, a rabbinic intern explained that when God told the Israelites to “do my work,” it was a commandment to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.

Nimmer took the message to heart. “We should do this,” he recalled saying. “We should invite some poor and hungry people into the sukkah.”

The congregation made an effort, extending lunch invitations to a number of homeless people in its Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Only one person showed up.

“It was not the most auspicious beginning,” said Nimmer, a former B’nai David-Judea president. “But it was a beginning.”

On Oct. 10, some 70 people gathered for what has become an annual sukkah breakfast, part of a B’nai David-Judea program that serves monthly meals to about 60 homeless people. The program is celebrating its bar mitzvah year.

Inside the sukkah, B’nai David-Judea members and students from nearby Pressman Academy sat alongside homeless people, chatting with them and bringing bagels, cereal, coffee and juice to those too frail or too tired to stand in line themselves. 

The monthly meals are usually served by students from Yeshivat Yavneh or Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, but Pressman students serve on Sukkot.

As the morning continued, attendees learned about traditional Sukkot customs, heard some Torah from B’nai David-Judea’s Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, and sang, danced and shook the lulav.

Noah Weissberg, 13, was busy pouring cereal and milk into bowls for people waiting in line. “It’s really nice to see the people and talk with them,” he said. “It’s just a good thing to do. They seem really happy and we make them feel good.”

As the program grew over the years, it began to draw many from the Russian-Jewish immigrant community. To accommodate those Russians who speak no English, the synagogue now serves two monthly meals, including one specifically for the Russian community.

This year’s Sukkot meal, though, was a combined event with plenty of Russian being spoken. One attendee, Eugene, apologized for his broken English but said he loved the monthly meals, “because I did not grow [up] with Judaism in the Soviet Union.”

He waved off a reporter’s attention, saying, “I am nobody.” But on this day, every homeless person was treated as special, and Eugene said he enjoyed all the “Jewish things.”

Those things included Pressman students showing attendees how to shake a lulav if they wanted to try. Three girls assisted an elderly Spanish-speaking woman in saying the blessings over the lulav, explaining everything in Spanish.

Take a look around at everyone here and see how miraculous it is.” – Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

It was a festive, raucous morning, with people stomping their feet, clapping, singing, and even forming a conga line with Kanefsky at the lead.

Among those enjoying the festivities was Jesse, who said he had worked for 22 years cleaning the stands at Dodger Stadium, “But I’m retired now.” Jesse said he had attended the monthly lunch previously, but not the Sukkot meal. “This is all so new,” he said, “but I love it.”

He made an effort to shake the lulav and recite the blessings. “It’s so wonderful how the kids come and talk to you,” he said. “It’s really a beautiful thing.”

Jesse said that when he has attended the monthly meals he has also picked up one of the Ralphs grocery store gift cards Kanefsky has distributed to homeless people for years.

The number of gift-card recipients has grown so much that the synagogue eventually created a registration system to control costs, Kanefsky said, “but we also have smaller denomination cards for unregistered people who show up so that no one ever walks away empty-handed.”

With the meal program in its 13th year, Kanefsky said the challenge is constantly assessing “How are we meeting the needs of this [homeless] population and how are their needs changing?”

Standing in the sukkah, Kanefsky noted during his drash the impermanent and precious nature of life. “If we can enjoy the things while they are here, then our lives will be rich with fulfillment and joy and memories that will last us a lifetime,” he said. “Take a look around at everyone here and see how miraculous it is.”

B’nai David-Judea will commemorate the program’s anniversary with a Nov. 5 community brunch. Evangelical author and speaker Philip Yancey will discuss how to care for society’s less fortunate. The event will also feature Torah learning on feeding the hungry.

An anti-Semitic poster was hung on the Kansas State University campus. Photo via WikiCommons.

Sukkah At Kansas State Vandalized


A sukkah that was residing on the Kansas State University (KSU) campus was vandalized on Friday evening.

The sukkah was built on October 3 and was intended for Jewish students to gather and eat during Sukkot, but on Friday graduate student Glen Buickerood, a Hillel liaison, noticed that the “the Sukkah was gone.”

“The chairs and tables stood where the Sukkah had been,” Buickerood wrote in an email to campus leaders. “The stakes were still in the ground. Stakes that had been tied to the Sukkah had been pulled out.”

The Sukkah ended up being wrapped around Buickerood’s car, which damaged the vehicle. Buickerood added in his email that he believes that the sukkah was an act of anti-Semitic vandalism.

“This was a direct response to what the Sukkah stands for and represents,” Buickerood wrote.

KSU President Richard Myers issued a statement condemning the incident.

There is no place in our community for hateful, criminal reactions to religious expression,” said Myers “Many who live or work on our campuses, particularly those of the Jewish community, are experiencing significant pain and fear as a result of this act. Our hearts go out to those in the K-State family who have been negatively affected.”

The sukkah has since been rebuilt and on Wednesday the campus will be hosting a Sukkot Solidarity Dinner as a response to the vandalism.

According to an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study in April, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses increased by 86% by that point in 2017. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is quoted on the site as saying, “Clearly, we have work to do and need to bring more urgency to the fight. At ADL, we will use every resource available to put a stop to anti-Semitism. But we also need more leaders to speak out against this cancer of hate and more action at all levels to counter anti-Semitism.”

Photos by Jonathan Fong.

A Toy Sukkah for the Kids


There’s great joy in the mitzvah of building and decorating a sukkah. To introduce kids to this beloved tradition, making a toy sukkah is fun activity that also provides an opportunity to teach the little ones about the Sukkot holiday.

As you create the sukkah, you can explain what Sukkot signifies and go through the rules of sukkah-building, such as how many walls and what you can use for the schach, the roof material. The holiday will definitely be more meaningful for them — and the whole family.

What you’ll need:

Cardboard box

Hobby knife

Colored paper

Glue

Popsicle sticks

1.

 

1. Cut the flaps off a medium-size cardboard box with a hobby knife. I recycled a mailing box. You also can use a shoebox, which doesn’t even have flaps. (Never let the kids get near a hobby knife — they’re sharp.)

 

2.

 

2. Decide which side of the box will be your roof. Cut an opening on this side so the roof is exposed. The schach will later cover this opening.

 

3.

 

3. Glue colored paper to the interior and exterior of the box. For simplicity, you can also leave the box as is, or even paint it.

 

4.

 

4. Decorate the exterior walls, if you wish. I cut out circles and glued them to the left and right exterior walls.

 

5.

 

5. Decorate the interior walls. You can use stickers or family photos. I cut out leaf shapes and glued them onto colored rectangles to make autumn-themed artwork.

 

6.

 

6. Make garlands by attaching circle loops to one another, and hang them from the roof.

 

7.

 

7. For the wood slats of the schach, lay down wooden Popsicle sticks across the opening in the roof. Then place branches or other vegetation on them.

 

8.

 

8. Furnish the interior however you’d like. I made stools by covering wood blocks with colored paper and made a table out of a plastic lid glued onto another block.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

A Sukkah That Glitters With Guests


Dina and Fred Leeds like to entertain. And they have a large, beautiful home in the hills of West Los Angeles in which to do so. It is filled with art and antiques, including a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that once belonged to Pat Boone that’s parked conspicuously in the entryway.

“We celebrate all life occasions to the fullest,” Dina said.

This includes Sukkot.

Ever since they can remember, the couple, who have seven children, three of whom still live at home, have erected a sizable sukkah they designed themselves. The size of a large school bus, it fills nearly the entire balcony outside the game room on the lower level of their residence. In recent years, it has featured “walls” fashioned from rich, wine-colored fabric. In the past, the walls were a beautiful, cream color.

In addition to its size, the Leeds’ larger sukkah is distinguished by several other features. It has three chandeliers and a long, linen-topped table with seating for 40. Dina orders “Dancing Lady” orchids every year to dress it up. “Every single petal looks like a dancing lady,” she said. “I enjoy looking at them when the table vibrates.”

Fred is the principal of Fred Leeds Properties, a real estate company with holdings mainly in Southern California and Arizona, and Dina is vice president. They are known for their philanthropic work with organizations such as the United States Holocaust Museum, Magen David Adom (Israel’s emergency medical response network), StandWithUs and the Jewish Federation Real Estate Principals Organization.

In recent years, they have added a second sukkah next to their kitchen, though this one is far more modest.

Dina, who was born in Egypt but moved to Los Angeles when she was a toddler, credits Chanah Rachel Schusterman, a Los Angeles-based educator who teaches a weekly class for women, for the inspiration — a second sukkah where their children could eat a quick breakfast before school.

“I copied her,” Dina said. “I thought it was so smart: making the mitzvah easy and convenient.”

Given one of Fred’s earliest memories of the holiday, it’s a wonder he didn’t abandon Sukkot altogether. When he was 12, he was caught eating fruit off the sukkah at Sinai Temple in Westwood.

“I was hungry,” he said.

Temple leadership was not amused. “I got kicked out,” he recalled.

Of their own sukkah, Fred said, “I love being under the stars and smelling the eucalyptus branches and being with friends.” The eucalyptus branches, which make up the roof of the sukkah, come from trees in their yard.

One tradition they keep: a pomegranate at every place. One year, Dina counted the number of seeds in the fruit. She wanted to confirm the lore she had heard since she was a child, that the number was equivalent to the total number of mitzvot (613) in the Torah.

“When we got to 943, I was devastated,” she recalled. She called her friend, Rabbi Chaim Mentz of Chabad of Bel Air. “He said, ‘Oh, Dina, the Torah doesn’t say that. It’s mistranslated. What it does say is, your mitzvot should be plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.’ ”

Whatever the number of seeds, the pomegranates have remained.

One practice that might surprise new visitors to the Leeds’ Jewish celebrations is a Sephardic tradition — one they maintain at Shabbat dinners — of throwing pieces of challah.

“When you pass bread to another man, you are subordinating him to you,” Dina said, explaining that throwing the challah instead symbolizes that no man provides for any other man. Rather, “a man’s sustenance comes from God, in the same ways that manna dropped from the heavens. … [Guests] are always pleased at what a good arm [Fred] has and what a good catcher I am.”

One thing the Leeds’ sukkah does not have is anything on the walls. “It’s traditional for Chabad not to decorate the walls of the sukkah,” said Dina, a self-proclaimed “shul hopper,” along with her husband. “It’s a beautiful idea,” she added. “The guests who enter the sukkah are your decorations.”

Among the hundreds of guests who have joined the Leeds over the years in their sukkah is Orly Halevy of West Hollywood, a professional photographer.

“I never saw a sukkah like this in my life,” said the Israeli-born Halevy, who has seen her fair share. “It is lavish. But it’s not over the top. It’s from the heart. … It’s a very warm atmosphere. They don’t do it to show off. This is their style.”

While it would be easy to focus entirely on the dramatic setting of the sukkah — nestled in the hills and surrounded by mature trees — as well as its fantastic size and beautiful table, Dina said that, ultimately, their tradition is all about observance.

“I love the beauty and wisdom of our Torah,” she said. “It becomes experiential in the sukkah.”

Holiday Pumpkin Soup. Photos by Cyndi Bemel

RECIPES: A Sukkot menu that celebrates the land’s fall harvest


The harvest festival of Sukkot is a great time to be home for the holidays.

The most obvious reason is that the main symbol of the festival is the sukkah, the decorated outdoor booth that provides families a wonderful opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to share a snack or come together for a meal.

In the spirit of the holiday, dishes should include seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with several kinds of grains, as a reminder of the fall harvest. 

This year, our family and friends will enjoy interesting foods from a menu that is healthful and low in fat, and much of it can be prepared in advance.

Begin with a hearty Holiday Pumpkin Soup, which can double as a great addition to your Thanksgiving dinner. Garnish with a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds that add a crunchy texture, and serve with grain-rich bread made from whole-wheat flour and cornmeal.

Another Sukkot culinary custom is to serve foods filled with rice or other grains. Kreplach, blintzes, cabbage, squash, and other vegetables are perfect examples. But, red bell peppers stuffed with rice and fruit, and baked until tender, are my favorite.

For dessert, lemon-flavored treats always are welcome and refreshing, since lemons are in the same citrus family as the etrog, or citron, one of the four species used ritually during Sukkot. (The other three species are the palm, willow and myrtle.) The lemon cake recipe below uses generous quantities of fresh lemon juice and grated rind for some extra zest. 

HOLIDAY PUMPKIN SOUP

3 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
6 cups vegetable broth or pareve chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

In a heavy saucepan, heat butter; add onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add apple and pumpkin, and sauté 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Add thyme and 5 cups broth. Bring to boil or until soup thickens.

With a slotted spoon, transfer all of pumpkin mixture to a food processor and process slowly, adding remaining 1 cup of broth until pureed.

Return pureed mixture to saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until soup thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into heated soup bowls and sprinkle with parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Makes about 7 cups.

HARVEST CORN BREAD

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

In the large bowl of a mixer, combine flour, salt, baking powder, 1 cup yellow cornmeal and sugar. Blend well. In a separate bowl, combine milk, oil and egg. Pour into flour mixture, beating until dry ingredients are moist.

Brush an 8-inch-square baking dish with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pour in batter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until wood toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on rack and cut into squares.

Makes about 16 squares.

RICE AND FRUIT STUFFED RED BELL PEPPERS

Quick Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
8 large, sweet red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups uncooked, long-grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup sliced dried prunes
1/3 cup sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups vegetable stock, chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Quick Tomato Sauce; set aside.

Cut off stem ends of peppers (1/2 inch from top), and remove the seeds and inner white ribs. Blanch and invert to drain while preparing filling.

Rinse and soak rice in hot water, covered, for 30 minutes; then drain.

Heat oil in skillet and sauté onion until tender. Add prunes, apricots, parsley, cinnamon, turmeric, stock and drained rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stuff peppers with rice mixture and cover with stem ends of peppers. Cover and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until tender, basting occasionally.

Makes 8 servings.

QUICK TOMATO SAUCE

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
Salt to taste

In a large pot, combine tomato sauce, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, raisins and salt to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Cover and set aside. 

Makes about 3 cups.

Sukkot Lemon Cake

SUKKOT LEMON CAKE

6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.

In another bowl, beat egg yolks until very thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in remaining 1 cup of sugar until mixture is smooth. Combine flour and salt and blend into egg-yolks mixture, alternately with lemon juice. Fold in lemon zest. Using a wire whisk or a rubber spatula, fold yolk mixture gently into egg-white mixture. 

Pour batter into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, until cake springs back with finger. Invert on wire rack and cool completely. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Photos by Jonathan Fong

DIY: Dried fruit garlands for the sukkah


With the holiday of Sukkot just around the corner, it’s not too early to start thinking of creative ways to decorate the sukkah.

Here’s a festive idea that celebrates the harvest with garlands of dried citrus fruits. The mix of oranges, lemons and limes creates a colorful medley, and the fruit slices filter sunlight like stained glass. You even can use the dried fruit after Sukkot for home décor throughout the autumn season.

What you’ll need:

Oranges
Lemons
Limes
Knife
Paper towels
Baking sheet
Parchment paper
Nail
String

1. Thinly slice the oranges, lemons and limes. (If you prefer, you can use only one type of fruit.) The slices should be no more than a quarter-inch thick. The thinner the slices, the faster they will dry.

Step 1

 

2. Pat the fruit slices dry with paper towels. Soaking up as much juice as possible with the paper towels will reduce drying time in the oven.

Step 2

 

3. Heat the oven to 200 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the fruit slices in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Step 3

 

4. After an hour, flip over the fruit slices so they can dehydrate evenly. Return to the oven and dry for another hour. Check the fruit every hour and flip the slices each time. It will take two to four hours to dry the fruit, depending on the thickness.

Step 4

 

5. Poke two holes with a nail near the top of every fruit slice, about a half-inch apart. The fruit still will be flexible, so you can move the nail around to expand the holes to fit your string.

Step 5

 

6. Slide string through the holes to make your garland. If you have a problem with insects in your yard, you can spray the garland with a clear varnish before hanging.

Step 6

 


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

The interior view of a Panoramic Sukkah. Photo courtesy of Eliyahu Alpern

This Panoramic Sukkah re-creates Jerusalem in your backyard


When it comes to Sukkot, the weeklong festival in which Jews live and eat in temporary huts known as sukkahs, no place does it better than Jerusalem. City schools and plenty of workplaces close, and a festive spirit permeates the air.

Many Jews around the world make a tradition of visiting Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday, which is also known as the Feast of Booths. Can’t make it to the Holy City? Fear not. Your sukkah can now transport you and your loved ones here.

Well, sort of. The Panoramic Sukkah is a creation by Andy “Eliyahu” Alpern, a photographer specializing in 360-degree images. Thanks to his sukkahs, which consist of panoramic photos of famous places in Israel, celebrants can easily pretend that they are actually at notable Jerusalem sites such as the Western Wall at night or smack in the middle of Mahane Yehuda market.

Alpern, 50, is a native Chicagoan who now lives in the northern city of Safed, where he runs his own gallery. Five years ago he was wandering through Safed during the festival, listening to the voices of families who were celebrating in their sukkahs, when the idea for the Panoramic Sukkah hit him.

By providing an immersive, inside-Israel experience, the Panoramic Sukkah is “a way of sharing Eretz Yisrael with people all over the world who can’t be here,” he told JTA, using the Hebrew term for the Land of Israel.

Alpern added that the point of Sukkot is to hearken back to life during biblical times — for example, wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt (hence the origin of the sukkah), thus one of his panoramic images is of the Negev Desert. Also, as Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals  (the others being Passover and Shavuot), it was tradition for Jews to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Launching Panoramic Sukkah as a business two years ago, Alpern had to find the material to print the walls on and a printer to transfer the images, taking into consideration both quality and affordability for the consumer.

Alpern declined to say how many sukkahs he has sold to date, but said his goal is to sell 100 by the time next year’s festival begins. (And while it’s too late to purchase a Panoramic Sukkah for this year, it’s not too early to plan for next: Keep an eye out for a sale during the intermediary days of the holiday, when Jews have Sukkot on the brain.)

A view of a Panoramic Sukkah from the outside. (Courtesy of Eliyahu Alpern)

A variety of images and styles are available. The full Panoramic Sukkah kit (from $1,080) includes a frame, as well as four walls with a 360-degree image on semi-translucent fabric. Other options include walls only (from $800) or single-wall panels (from $210) if, as the website says, you’re “looking to bring Israel into your Sukkah, but not for quite so much Israel.”

Of course, Alpern can also create custom sukkahs. This year he created a wall panel for a customer depicting the Ushpizin, mystical special guests that are ritually welcomed each evening of the holiday. The panel included the images of the traditional “guests” — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and King David — and interspersed them with images of the customer’s family members and inspirational figures such as Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

If Alpern’s Panoramic Sukkahs can bring Jerusalem to anywhere in the world, then it’s probably no surprise that the reverse can also be true. Perhaps the greatest custom sukkah that Alpern has created was for himself: Wrigley Field. A diehard Chicago Cubs fan since he worked as a vendor at the iconic ballpark in 1984, Alpern was disappointed that he could not make it back to his hometown last year for the World Series. So he took a panoramic photo of Wrigley that he had shot a few years back and turned it into a Panoramic Sukkah of his own.

Last year, Alpern and his three sons slept in the sukkah, waking up in the middle of the night to watch the games broadcast over the internet. This year — with the Cubs on a hot streak and ready to defend their title — they plan to do the same: Major League Baseball’s postseason begin Oct. 3, the night before Sukkot begins.

4 Palestinians detained by own police after visiting West Bank mayor’s sukkah


10/21/16: Four Palestinians who attended a Sukkot celebration alongside Israelis in the home of a West Bank mayor were arrested by Palestinian security forces.

[UPDATE 10/25/16: The Palestinians have been released]

The celebration took place without incident Wednesday at the home of Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement. Revivi had invited several dozen Palestinians living near Efrat to join 30 Israelis in celebrating the Jewish harvest holiday.

But four of the Palestinians who attended were arrested late the next day. The reason for their arrest was not clear, but their relatives suggested it was because they were photographed with prominent Israeli army and police officers, The Washington Post reported.

One relative of the detained men accused Revivi of “tricking” the Palestinians.

“Instead of helping us, he destroyed us,” Asad Abu Hamad told The Washington Post.

Revivi denied the accusations and said he had urged for the four men to be released.

“I understand they are upset. I understand what the relatives are saying,” he said. “But was this a trap? This was no trap.”

Sukkot — the blessings of necessity


It was a recent story about the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and America in the oil industry that made me think about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when Jews are called upon to reflect on values such as humility and resourcefulness.

For many decades now, Saudi Arabia has had the luxury of having enormous oil reserves that have kept its economy afloat while funding the lavish lifestyles of its royal family. It’s a little like having a basement in your house filled with unlimited hoards of cash that you could access at any time and spend any way you wish. Who needs to work?

Whenever the Saudi kingdom felt threatened by an oil glut that would cause  prices to tumble, all it had to do was slash production so that prices would rise again —  and presto, the billions would keep floating in.

Over the past few years, though, something changed. The fracking boom in the United States has threatened Saudi Arabia’s oil domination, to the point where in early 2014, the U.S. even surpassed Saudi production at almost 11 million barrels a day. The Saudis thought they could squelch this new threat by keeping production levels high and pushing prices so low that American producers would be forced out of business.

But something else happened — forced by necessity, the American producers learned to cut costs and make their industry more efficient, creating an American oil industry that’s grown stronger, not weaker, as a result of the price slide.  

Meanwhile, as Hudson Institute senior fellow Arthur Herman writes in National Review online, “Far from ruining the U.S. fracking industry, the global oil glut is about to ruin the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It seems that an economic and social system that has developed around oil — indeed, is entirely dependent on it — couldn’t sustain itself at prices this low.”

Because they had built “an enormous welfare state on the back of their oil industry,” the Saudis didn’t have a Plan B to counter the resourceful moves of their American rivals. So, last week, desperate to push oil prices back up, Riyadh “decided to throw in the towel in its two-year war on American energy producers” by announcing it would cut its oil production in half.

If these cuts push prices back up, American producers will be making more money than ever — money, Herman writes, “that can be invested in new energy exploration and development and in new technologies like waterless fracking and laser drilling that will make fracking safer, cleaner, and more efficient than ever.”

What does all of this have to do with the holiday of Sukkot, when Jews have a tradition of building a little hut where they eat for eight days?

Among its many lessons, Sukkot reminds us that what brings out the best in people is not easy abundance or luxury — but the humility of necessity. It is the necessity of building things, often from scratch, that forces us to be resourceful.

Think about Israel. It wasn’t born with a basement full of oil riches. It had to build a country from scratch. Because it was forced to make do, invent on the fly, learn through trial and error and defend itself against all odds, it created a feisty and resilient little country. It wasn’t “cursed” with the unlimited oil reserves of its Saudi neighbors that has made the kingdom so complacent and vulnerable to outside forces.

It was the necessity of a difficult reality that forced Israel to gain its economic independence, just as a tough reality forced the U.S. oil industry to adapt and become more efficient.

The challenge for modern Jewry and for Israel is to ensure that our success and power don’t make us lose our humility and resourcefulness.

Sukkot reminds us of a time when our ancestors had to harness all of their wits and ingenuity to grow and harvest their crops and build their temporary dwellings in the wilderness. If they wanted to survive, they had no choice.

Today, we have a choice. We don’t have to build a hut for shelter. We don’t even have to be that resourceful — modern living is all about ease and convenience.

The ritual of building a sukkah, then, is more than an endearing Jewish tradition. It’s also a reminder that when luxury and comfort surround us, whether we are kings in our own castles or royalty in Saudi Arabia, maintaining our humility is not just a blessing, it’s a necessity.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Sukkot for two: Building a sukkah for a small patio or balcony


Although Sukkot is a couple of weeks away, once Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are over, it will be time to get the sukkah up. If you live in an apartment with a balcony, or even a home with only a small outdoor patio or yard, your space can be quite limited. And just the idea of building a sukkah can seem intimidating.

The good news is, building a sukkah sized for just one or two people is a breeze. (For proof, watch the time-lapse video at jewishjournal.com of me building a sukkah.) It can go up in minutes, doesn’t require major tools and after the holiday will store compactly, so you can use it again next year.