Rabbi Murray took Judaism on the road — in mobile sukkah

RABBINICAL STUDENT TAL Braude and Rabbi Binyamin Murray, co-director of Chabad of Middlebury, stand in front of a mobile sukkah that they towed through various Addison County communities this month. The sukkah is a rudimentary three- or four-sided hut, towed by a vehicle, that provides spiritual nourishment and a snack to people during the Jewish holidays.

MIDDLEBURY — One can see some interesting vehicles traveling Addison County roads during the fall.
A trip along Route 116 from Middlebury to Bristol on a sunny afternoon can offer fleeting sights of a 1972 Camaro, a shiny new John Deere tractor and a sleek Mercedes Benz, all humming through a steady flutter of golden leaves begrudgingly surrendered by the weather-beaten boughs above.
But every once in a while, you see something you’ve never seen before.
Such as last week when Rabbi Binyamin Murray, co-director of Chabad of Middlebury, took to the roads with a mobile sukkah that he and his associate, rabbinical student Tal Braude, towed through Bristol, Vergennes and Middlebury. The mobile sukkah is a rudimentary three- or four-sided hut towed by a vehicle that provides spiritual nourishment and a snack to people during the Jewish holiday season.
Traditionally, the sukkah is a temporary structure covered by vegetation or bamboo; it’s required to be a space open to the skies, commemorating the time when the Jews wandered in the desert wilderness with the miraculous clouds that surrounded them. In the sukkah, it is customary to shake the lulav and the etrog, and to have some traditional sweet cake.
The lulav is a bundle made up of palm branch, myrtle and willows. The etrog is a citron, an ancient type of citrus fruit that is grown in Israel primarily for use during the seven-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which began Oct. 13. Together, these four components represent heart, body, eyes and lips and symbolize the human condition and service to God.
The Independent caught up with Murray and Braude on a windy Oct. 16. They’d parked the sukkah off College Street in Middlebury, where passersby could readily see it. Had the weather been more cooperative, Murray would have taken to the streets in a “pedi-sukkah,” consisting of a bicycle toting a sukkah trailer. But windy conditions — which were expected to get even worse the following day with an approaching Nor’easter — forced the local rabbi to take a more cautious approach.
“(The pedi-sukkah) was moving all over the place,” Murray said. “We felt it would take too much time to add the weight (to make it safe and functional) today.”
Still, the larger mobile sukkah was a sight to behold. Though rustic, the sukkah’s makers had to abide by specific construction techniques, according to Murray. It must offer more shade than sun, which is why bamboo mats are used as a cover. The roofing has to be made of all-natural materials. One can’t use any metal to secure the roof.
Murray said this was the first year Chabad House had organized a mobile sukkah. He credited a Weybridge resident for donating all the greenery for the sacred hut-on-wheels.
Vermont is a very homogenous state with a relatively small Jewish community. While the county doesn’t have a synagogue, the Middlebury-based Havurah House and the college offer opportunities for the Jewish community to gather and celebrate their faith.
Chabad is worldwide organization, standing for “wisdom, understanding and knowledge.” There are more than 5,000 Chabad houses worldwide, including one at Middlebury College. The Chabad house at Middlebury is available to people seeking access to traditional Judaism — whether it be traditional kosher food or mezuzah. A mezuzah is a scroll containing verses from the Torah that Jewish people affix to their doorpost.
Murray on Oct. 16 reported lots of passing motorists and pedestrians waving in acknowledgement to the pedi-sukkah, though not many stopped to use it. But those who did certainly enjoyed it.
“One person said this was the first time they were able to participate (in Jewish holiday celebrations) this year,” Murray said with a smile.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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