April 21, 2024
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Sukkah-Building Squad Saves the Day in Middlesex County

They call themselves the Sukkah Elves but they might as well be called angels. They go about their work without much fanfare and, like malachim, take no food or drink or money in return. And to those they assist, they make the full observance of an important mitzvah possible.

One thing is certain—the efforts of the Sukkah Elves of Highland Park/Edison are greatly appreciated.

Judy Chanowitz of Highland Park describes her encounter with the sukkah-building squad fondly.

“When my daughter was at Rutgers, she would gather some of her friends and they would build and decorate our sukkah,” Chanowitz said. “Fortunately for them, they all graduated and moved on. Fortunately for me, the Highland Park/Edison community has wonderful resources. Following leads through our local Yahoo and Facebook groups, we discovered the Sukkah Elves. A group of good-natured men and teenage boys descended on our backyard and quickly put up our sukkah. They helped contribute to our Shalom Bayit.”

The Sukkah Elves is the brainchild of Robert Himber, a member of the Highland Park Conservative Temple and Center/Anshe Emeth Congregation (HPCTC/AEC). He recalled a chesed project he conducted in his teens in Brooklyn. With a few friends he went around his neighborhood the night before Sukkot and built� sukkot for people who weren’t able to assemble them on their own. He estimates that they built 15 to 20 sukkot that night.

This past summer, Himber enlisted a few friends in the Highland Park/Edison community to help bring his project to life again. They began promoting their availability to build sukkot for free for those who needed assistance. On the Sunday before Rosh HaShana, Himber led a team of six Sukkah Elves—Craig Artel, Carey Glass, Ari Kolb, Eli Nagel, Walter Nagel and Rich Zirin—to the homes of nine community members, who attend� a variety of synagogues, and built their sukkot. Easily identified by their multi-colored Sukkah Elves caps, the team members arrived on the scene and moved quickly. Most of the sukkot were put up entirely, frames, walls and skhach, in less than 45 minutes.

So as not to disadvantage the team members spending hours building other folks’ sukkot, the Sukkah Elves also built each other’s sukkot during their work that day.

“The whole idea of this is to build community and connections between shuls,” Himber said.. “We may have different views but we all need sukkot to observe the holiday. I hope this project creates open lines of communication among different parts of the community. Sukkot is about opening doors and inviting people in. The Sukkah Elves is the perfect project for this holiday.”

Glass, an active member of HPCTC/AEC who serves on their board of directors, commented on how much he valued the experience of working as one of the Sukkah Elves.

“Giving back to the community has always been very important to me and so this project was a wonderful opportunity to do that right before Rosh Hashanah. We thought it’d be a nice way to reach out to the community and offer a helping hand. It was very well received and those we assisted were all very grateful.”

Milton Erdfarb of Highland Park echoed Glass’s sentiment.:

“Due to personal health issues this year, it would have been extremely dangerous if I attempted to assemble my own sukkah, as I have until now,” he said. “The thought of not having a sukkah was extremely disheartening. Thanks to the mitzvah team put together by Robert Himber and his band of merry elves, I should be able to dwell in my backyard tabernacle and regale in the glory of this special Yom Tov.”

Himber looks forward to conducting the Sukkah Elves project as an annual tradition and welcomes others to join the team of Elves. He also hopes Highland Park’s effort inspires similar initiatives in other communities. He invites inquiries on how to set up a Sukkah Elves project and can be reached at [email protected].

“If we put up just one Sukkah this year, which otherwise might not get built, I’d say it was a successful year,”� Himber said. “It’s all about building bridges and we’re so pleased to do that. We look forward to conducting this project next year and in years to come.”

By Harry Glazer

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