Sukkah Chasers

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One of our new articles at MyJewishLearning, Celebrating Sukkot without a Sukkah, is a lavishly creative and thoroughly detailed exploration of ways to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles without, well, a tabernacle.

(Side-note: when I hear the word “tabernacle,” I always used to think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Then I met Marc Rosenberg in Washington, who was complaining about how he had to tell his professors he couldn’t come to class because it was the Second Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and how illegitimate it sounded.)

But, hey, New York is the most Jewish city in the world. Never mind that there’s no space for anything here — if God worked the big miracles, we can totally work the small ones, right?

I went to work without lunch, thinking I could hold out till I returned to Brooklyn. Three meetings and five article edits later, I wasn’t so sure. We had the fabulous Sonja Kroop in the office for a meeting, so I walked her out and decided to show her what New York sukkot are made of.

Daniel came into the office ranting about giant flatbed-truck sukkot on Broadway. It was the kind of thing you couldn’t not explore. And, true to form: sitting in front of Jerusalem 2 Pizza on Broadway and 37th was a giant truck, taking up half the parking on the block, crammed to the brunt with Jews. Half a block down, directly in front of Kosher Delight, sat its twin. Actually, I don’t know if Jews were fully responsible for cramming it — there were a few Japanese tourists, their minds clearly more on photo ops than stuffing as many pizza slices into their mouths in as little time as possible, which was, clearly, the mission of most of the Jews there.

They must have read some other article about Sukkot without a sukkah, I figured.

I thought about getting a slice of pizza. Sonja was seeping in the environment, gazing up thorugh the bamboo roof in wonderment, but one look at the line and she was instantly remembering another appointment someplace else.

I braved the line myself, but 20 minutes in and I was starting to worry about this thing we call lunch break, and whether or not it would involve lunch. I went back to Kosher Delight. The line there looked even more intimidating. So I headed to my favorite little lunch place, a place that serves a mean cup of soup and a modest bagel, determined to get (a) something to eat, and (b) a sukkah with a seat.

The man at the register, a Sephardic Israeli who looked oddly like Groucho Marx trying to be Robert Goulet, told me a rumor of a sukkah on West 34th. “It’s on a street,” he said, shrugging noncommittally. “Or in a synagogue. Maybe both.” Well, Robert Goulet would have called that a lead. I was off.

west side jewish center
The West Side Jewish Center was just as beautiful as this, if not as physically revelatory. It wasn’t messy at all — it was just crumbling. They’re in the middle of a redecoration, but in the midst of all these just-add-water skyscrapers, this building is beautiful stone and luxurious concrete, the letters chisled into the building’s skin. There has to be a story behind this place — and, once I can come without making a pig of myself, I’m coming back to find out.

Anyway. The soup was hot, the bagel was chewy (in the good way), and the tables at the synagogue were, adorably, color-coded blue, red, and green. The clientele were a motley assortment of businessmen, retired people, and those with time to waste. A woman in church-glasses and a white knit sweater sat at a table selling roast beef and pastrami sandwiches, and for a moment I almost wished I wasn’t a vegetarian so that I could buy one from her. By the time I actually washed and broke bread, I basically had to run back to the home office — I didn’t even have enough time to eavesdrop on the people around me. But you better believe, if there’s life after Sukkot, I’m tracking every one of them down.

Posted on October 17, 2008

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