“You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43)
Israel’s oldest charity, Colel Chabad, has set up numerous sukkot – traditional outdoor booths erected during the Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, holiday – around the country for people to use and enjoy.
The sukkot are erected alongside to the organization’s soup kitchens, which are spread out in low income neighborhoods in various cities, including Safed, Ramle, Lod and multiple places in Jerusalem.
One of the most popular and frequented sukkot is adjacent to the Colel Chabad soup kitchen just above the Western Wall Plaza. Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Director of Volunteering at Colel Chabad, told Breaking Israel News that the Sukkah is used by hundreds of people each day who are in need of a hot meal during the holiday.
“It is a regular thing. Unfortunately some people just don’t have food. So they come to us on a regular basis,” he said. “The holidays even more so.”
Traxler explained that while there is a festive air about the sukkah, people don’t come to socialize. “There is always a special feeling around the chagim (holidays). People are genuinely happy, and there is a festive atmosphere that pervades the kitchen and sukkah. But people come to eat. They don’t come to schmooze.”
Over the course of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which began with the Jewish New Year of Rosh, Hashana, Colel Chabad estimates that it prepares over 81,000 meals for Israelis in need, serving 2,700 meals a day.
In addition to the sukkah project, the organization is in the middle of distributing $3.6 million worth of food baskets and vouchers over the month of Tishrei.
While the sukkot built by Colel Chabad are there to cater to the needy needy, people who simply wish to fulfill the Biblical commandment of eating inside the sukkah and have nowhere else to go are also invited.
“We are happy to give people the opportunity to fulfill the Biblical commandment of eating in a sukkah at each of our locations,” he said. “We serve meals near the Kotel all throughout chag, and pretty much all day”.
Founded in 1788 by the Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first leader of the Hassidic Lubavitch movement, Colel Chabad has become one of Israel’s premier charity organizations, helping millions since its founding.
“It is a nice feeling to be able to provide for people and see their smiles,” said Traxler. “Especially around the holiday seasons, it is not our job to judge the poor, it is our job to help them.”