Monday, September 19, 2011

Looking at Washington Heights for a Saner Way

It's a fact that many people here in the NY area do not have a personal sukkah where they are living. For some it's a matter of physical setting: they live in an apartment building and there is nowhere to put up a sukkah. For some it may be that they no longer can physically cope with putting up a sukkah. No matter what the reason, there will be people who will not have a sukkah available to them for the yom tov of Sukkos.

Yes, there are many shuls around the city which put up communal sukkahs. But how those sukkahs can be utilized by shul members is widely various. In some shuls only kiddush can be made in the shul sukkah. Some shul sukkahs will only accomodate men who wish to eat there rather than whole families. In many shuls around the area shul families can eat their meals in the shul sukkah, but those meals will be provided by the shul caterer, at a cost of $20-30 per person--you do the math for a family of 5 for a three-day yom tov repeated twice. (Note: many of those caterers will only provide meals on the first and last days of yom tov; for chol hamoed the sukkah is "closed").

Last year G6 had up a posting about how she was preparing to bring over her food to the shul kitchen in Washington Heights because her meals would be in the shul sukkah. This is one method I applaud whole heartedly. Yes, I know there are some other shuls who allow this as well, but relatively few of them. Yeah, yeah, I've heard all the comments about the kashrut concerns if everyone could bring in home-cooked food to this shul sukkah, and use the shul's refrigerators for storage. Frankly these are empty excuses because they are so easy to work around. I'd like to see more shuls follow the example of the Washington Heights Kehillah in providing a sukkah for member use without strings attached that cost an arm and a leg.

How does your community handle the shul sukkah issue? Does it work well for all?


tesyaa said...

I agree that there should be no kashrus issue of using the shul's ovens. The shul could require that all meals be double wrapped in aluminum foil, regardless of who brings them. No one should be insulted if the requirement is uniform. I think there are also aluminum catering bags in which one can wrap meals for reheating. The shul could provide the bags for a nominal fee.

Abba's Rantings said...

i wonder if the situation you describe is unique to manhattan. i've eaten in shul sukkas for most of my life. never had a catered option (or requirement) and there was never any problem brining food from home (although shul ovens were never used and i'm not sure why one would need to)

Chaya said...

We're in Queens. Our shul has an official caterer who basically owns the kitchen as part of what he pays to the shul. No outside food can be brought in--you can't use the caterer's stoves or refrigerator. He doesn't charge quite the money you mentioned and gives a family rate but it's still pricey for a family for this many meals.

The only exception is that all shul members can make kiddush in the sukkah and the shul provides the wine.

JS said...

Never heard of these sorts of problems. I'd be pretty upset if my shul had rules like this and I'd seek to join a shul that didn't. What kashrut problems could there possibly be by bringing food into an outdoor sukkah and eating on your own plates with your own cutlery? Even warming up the food could be handled easily (though I don't understand why you can't bring your food already warm). And only letting men use the sukkah is especially heinous and I view it in the same light of separating men from their families in the name of frumkeit (men have to go to shiurim and can't be at home to spend time with their kids is another example). Never heard of an official shul caterer, but again I can't see the issue with wanting to bring your own warm food.

Is there even a requirement to eat in a sukkah if it's especially burdensome and you don't have your own sukkah? I thought I had heard this before.

Also, who came up with double wrapping? This has always perplexed me. Why isn't one enough?

mother in israel said...

This brings back fine memories of life as a newlywed in Washington Heights. Like G6, we brought our yom tov meals to the Sukkah and occasionally were invited to eat at or borrow someone else's.
A hotplate, covered with foil, is a possible solution to the oven problem. If someone lives far from shul.

Abba's Rantings said...


"And only letting men use the sukkah is especially heinous . . ."

its an allocation of resources. women do not have a chiyyuv to eat in the sukkah, so if there is limited space men go first. of course this doesn't mean they have to sit for 3 hours. they can make kiddush and have a quick meal, then go home to be with the family.

"Never heard of an official shul caterer"

i assume this is in reference to shuls with catering halls, of which of course there are many.

Miami Al said...

My sukkah is easily accessible from my house. In addition to entertaining our condo living friends over the holiday, I sometimes have people drop in my make Brachot in my Sukkah. I'm sure I can't be the only Yid that permits this.

JS said...


Yeah, I know about the chiyuv, but the various chiyuvim we have in this religion always seem to operate to keep out the women in children and allow the men to have their little "no girls allowed" club.

Abba's Rantings said...


men have the chiyyuv. women don't. that's just the way it is. (of all the things we can complain about i really don't think this ranks up there)

whether sukkot meals actually turn into a "no girls allowed" a club is entirely up to how the men choose to conduct themselves. it is not a factor of the chiyyuv itself.

JS said...

It may be up to the men, but you don't see anyone complain about it or chide the men for abandoning their families. You won't see a rabbi get up and say, "Part of the simcha of yom tov is spending it with your family" or something like that.

It seems like every time there's a chiyuv for men in some mitzcah, an extra chiyuv is created to spend time away from your family.

G6 said...

Thank you so much for the mention.
In the interest of clarity, I must tell you that our shul actually sponsors TWO succahs.
One is a "catered" succah, with prices actually a bit higher than those you mentioned. It serves a purpose for the most part, for the elderly members who do not want to leave their beloved Kehilla over Yom Tov, but for whom cooking and transporting food is too difficult.
The second succah is the public succah - affectionately known as the "shlep" succah - because one shleps one's own food from home. The members who use this succah do NOT have access to ovens, but they are largely unnecessary, as food is brought down piping hot and, in my case at least, wrapped well in towels (You'd be amazed at how long food stays hot when wrapped in towels... even Friday night when my food has to be down before Kabbolas Shabbos, my soup can burn your tongue). They DO provide several refrigerators for cold food and we tend to leave our drinks, salads, cakes and leftovers there from meal to meal, keeping the "shlep" aspect to a bare minimum. The shul also provides ample indoor space to store tablecloths, napkins and anything else you don't want to take back and forth.
At the risk of going on an on, I also want to mention the wonderful communal feeling that permeates these meals. Families side by side - singing - sharing - being together in so many wonderful ways. I wouldn't trade it for anything.