Weekly Chasidic Story #775 (s5773-04 / 17 Tishrei 5773)
The Real Roof
“I promise you G-d had pleasure in your desire to beautify the mitzva of Sukka.”
Connection: Seasonal: Sukkot
After 70 years of Communism, building a sukka in public in Russia is actually like the thawing of the snow at the end of the winter. Even in the farthest reaches of Siberia it warms the Jewish heart.
In the last 20 years, Judaism has been rejuvenated across Russia–and when it comes to Sukkot it is really an open miracle, as this joyous festival was almost completely forgotten due to the dangers and risks of attempting to build asukka or obtain a lulav and etrog. Still, just like the spark of Jewishness itself, Communism never was able to truly stamp Sukkot out.
To understand how Sukkot is celebrated today in Russia, and not just in the major cities such as Moscow or Petersburg, but in the outlying and distant communities, Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz tells a story he heard a few years ago, when I visited Kazan, a city in the largely Muslim Tatarstan region of Russia.
After the morning services, led by the Chief Rabbi of Kazan, Yitzchok Garelik, on a regular weekday in the synagogue in Kazan, he was introduced to Mr. Moshe Adinov, a 65-year-old local dentist and a member of the minyan. He asked him, “How did it come about that you come to shul to pray every day?”
He told me the following remarkable story:
“My father was Reb Nachum Eliyahu Adinov. He was a scribe in Kazan before WWII. He kept the traditions in our home, but of course there was no Jewish school. I went to public school even on Shabbat. A lot of tradition was weakened. Nevertheless, I remember growing up with as many Jewish traditions and holidays as were possible.
“My father was afraid for my future. He always told me not to repeat to others what we did at home. ‘Be a Jew at home and a Russian in the street,’ he always said. I would have never been accepted at university had I been a practicing Jew.
“We lived in a small wooden home, not in an apartment building like most people. We had a besedka, basically an open porch in the back of our home. Every year we’d celebrate Sukkot. My father would cover the top of the besedkawith leaves and foliage.** We’d invite over many Jewish friends. I always felt a little bad about our sukka; even though it was the only sukka in town, I was embarrassed as I thought we could not afford to put a ‘real roof’ on the sukka. My father would make Kiddush on wine, tell stories and gently speak to us, and this memory of Sukkot always stayed with me.
**The requirements for fulfilling the commandment of Sukka includes having an open-roof structure whose top is covered with tree branches or other cut foliage.
“My father died in 1965, and I inherited his home. I wanted to keep the Sukkot tradition alive, so that my children, too, would have an authentic Jewish experience. But I wanted to celebrate the holiday properly! I had friends in the steel industry, and so I had them construct a sturdy aluminum roof that we would put on the top of the besedka each year when Sukkot arrived. I was proud that I continued my father’s tradition.
In 1998, Chabad-Lubavitch sent Rabbi Yitzchok Garelik and his wife Chana here. It was so beautiful to have a young rabbi and wife celebrating in public what I always did secretly. It was incredible for me. That year, Rabbi Garelik said to me, ‘Reb Moshe, tomorrow is Sukkot. I want you to come to the beautiful sukka we built.’ At night, when I walked into the sukka, I saw Rabbi Garelik in his holiday finest, holding an overflowing glass of wine, candlelight reflected on his face. And foliage, branches and trees above his head!
“At first, I stood there in shock. Then I was overcome with emotion and I began to cry. I suddenly realized that what my father did was the way it’s supposed to be, and for the last 30 years by placing an aluminum roof, not only had I not fulfilled the mitzva of sukka, I had even desecrated it! Yet I only meant to make the sukka more beautiful. I was utterly broken.
“When Rabbi Garelik heard my story, he told me: ‘Your father is looking down from Heaven with all the great Jews of the past and smiling. I promise you G-d had pleasure in your desire to beautify the mitzva of sukka, because you did it with such love and sincerity, even though you did not understand all of the details.’
“Since then, I have continued to learn and understand our traditions. I and my family are involved as part of the community and today celebrate all the holidays with their rich fullness.”
In Russia today, only synagogues have Sukkot, as most Jews live in apartment buildings. The Sukkot holiday becomes an incredible community event. Despite the cold, everyone comes to the community Sukka. People sing, spend family time together, laugh, talk, and enjoy the words of Torah and stories that are constantly flowing and keeping us warm.
Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz is the Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish Communities (//www.fjc.ru) of the CIS, an umbrella organization of 452 communities across the former Soviet Union.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition on //lchaimweekly.org (#940), with permission.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.