"Mobile Sukkah" saves fall harvest holiday tradition in Jewish community

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (WPVI) -- "Have you ever seen a sukkah in a pickup truck before? Never!" exclaimed Rabbi Nathan Weiner to a group of children today.

The Jewish holiday, "Sukkot," is a week-long festival celebrating nature, harvest, and ingathering.

The term refers to the plural form of "Sukkah," or a temporary hut in which Jews are commanded to eat, work, and sleep to connect to the earth and honor their ancestors.

This communal tradition has been threatened by the potential spread of COVID-19. Thus, congregations like Beth Tikvah in Marlton, New Jersey, have not installed their annual sukkahs on-site.

"Finding joy in the middle of a pandemic when we can't celebrate in the way that we normally would is really disheartening for a lot of people," said Rabbi Nathan Weiner of Beth Tikvah.

Instead of letting the tradition fade, he simply shifted gears.

Burns Buick GMC lent a hardly-used GMC Sierra Denali to Rabbi Weiner. They outfitted the trunk with a mobile sukkah no less glorious than those on land.

In his new ride, Rabbi Weiner has traveled to several neighborhoods as well as the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Using safety protocols, he invites one person at a time to exercise certain traditions that may have been lost in the past.

Sara Sideman, a mother of three, couldn't be happier with the idea.

"Sukkot happens to be our family's favorite holiday," she said. "I feel so blessed that my children are finally themselves for the first time in months."

Sideman directs youth camps at the Katz JCC, which have seen success with their in-person activities.

"Our early childhood team is doing an unbelievable job of keeping the kids safe, making it feel like it's not unusual," she said.

Many of the children remembered Rabbi Weiner from in-person activities prior to the pandemic. They mutually missed each other.

"We wanted to be sure that people could participate in the holiday in a safe, meaningful, and fun way," he said.

The last day of Sukkot in 2020 is today. Rabbi Weiner hopes that the universal themes of nature, community, and the potential of ubiquitous holiness will connect with people no matter their religion.

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