November 18, 2019

Breaking Down the Sukkah Business

Photo courtesy of luxurysukkahs.com

Once Sukkot begins, observant Jews will spend the eight-day festival in outdoor huts that remind us of the fragility of our existence. If that sounds heavy, Avi Lazar, founder of Luxury Sukkahs, is here to remind everyone that Sukkot is all about joy. 

“It’s a beautiful holiday, the happiest of all the Jewish holidays,” the 38-year-old told the Journal. “It’s called zman simchateinu — the time of our happiness.” 

For those ambitious enough to construct a sukkah, Lazar, the founder of the high-end, Israel-based sukkah business serving clients throughout North America, helps people reimagine the aesthetic possibilities of the temporary shelters.

“We take the idea of a sukkah and transform it from a not-so-fun wooden kind of box into something that can really make your home look way cooler — literally an addition onto the home,” Lazar said. “Some people believe a sukkah should be a temporary shack. We have a different take on it. We take the idea of a sukkah and say, ‘Temporary doesn’t have to be horrible. Temporary can be amazing.’ ”

Whether constructing a luxury sukkah or opting for something modest, detailed construction guidelines are available on websites including myjewishlearning.com and chabad.org. And it’s actually the schach, the vegetation covering the roof of the sukkah, that is the most important element.

“The sukkah can be made of anything— the weirdest materials — but the schach has to be a natural fiber with zero other purpose in the world other than to be schach,” Lazar said.

But when it comes to materials for the sukkah’s walls and frame, there’s a certain amount of leeway. This is where Lazar gets creative. His luxury sukkahs have see-through polycarbonate walls, an idea inspired by a past client.

“The sukkah can be made of anything — the weirdest materials — but the schach has to be a natural fiber with zero other purpose in the world other than to be schach.” — Avi Lazar 

“We had a client who said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if the panels were made of glass?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’ and we searched for the right type of plastic, did a little trial and error, looked for things that were shatterproof, things that aren’t too expensive.” 

Varying in length and width, Lazar’s sukkah dimensions include 12-by-12 feet, 12-by-16 feet and 24-by-12 feet. Options include the Diamond Edition, “bound to make a statement in your neighborhood,” and the Crystal Edition,” an “elegant finished product,” according to the Luxury Sukkahs website. 

Lazar said his company hires subcontracted carpentry workers, but he declined to specify the costs of building his sukkahs, revealing only, “They can climb extremely high.”

A more practical option is Sukkah Depot, the self-described “largest and most recognized sukkah manufacturer and seller in the Jewish world.” While most Sukkot Depot sales are online, for the first time the company opened a temporary storefront on West Pico Boulevard in Pico-Robertson, offering easy-to-assemble sukkahs made from wood panels, tarps and poles. 

On Oct. 7, Yisroel Mishulovin, a Los Angeles representative for Sukkah Depot, was busy with customers scrambling to purchase sukkahs ahead of Yom Kippur. Mishulovin told the Journal he was “doing an experimental gig to see how this goes and to see what [potentially] happens [in] the future.”

While Sukkah Depot sells schach made from bamboo and reed mats, local businessman Moshe Levis sells and delivers schach made from palm and date trees. He said that while bamboo mats are cheaper as they are reusable, his customers prefer the more traditional, more natural option of actual trees.

“People still buy those palm branches,” he said. “It’s what they are used to. It’s what they grow up with. It’s the tradition. Some people use both.”

Customers are keeping the sukkah sellers hopping. As Lazar explained, “This specific business, it has such a small yet gigantic explosion of time during the period of one week before Rosh Hashanah or two weeks maximum before Rosh Hashanah and a week and a half after Sukkot. That is the entire business.” 

Just as families hurry to have a sukkah up in their homes before Sukkot begins, they are just as eager to remove the sukkah once the holiday is over.

“Our clients love the product but they hate having a sukkah up,” Lazar said. “They want the beauty and the event of Sukkot but as soon as Sukkot is over, we have a very lengthy list of [people saying], ‘Take us down first.’ ”