One of my earliest childhood memories was Sukkot of 1976, when I was 3.5 years old. I remember sitting in the family Sukkah, looking up through the branches that formed the roof, at the clouds as they whisked across the sky. We lived in a 17-story condominium and there was no obvious place to build a Sukkah. My father (of blessed memory), an Orthodox rabbi, asked permission to build a Sukkah in his designated parking space. When his request was turned down by the condominium board, my mother came up with the idea of building our Sukkah on the back of a U-Haul trailer. She was inspired by a famous Talmudic ruling that a person traveling in a caravan over the feast is permitted to build a Sukkah on the back of a camel. She noticed many people parking boats and RVs in the outdoor lot and realized the board wouldn't think twice about letting us park a trailer. When our 20th century equivalent of a camel pulled into the parking lot with a Sukkah on the back, the condominium board was livid, but there was nothing they could do about it.
My father's U-haul Sukkah didn't go unnoticed. A local rabbinical student sent the following letter to the editor of a Chicago-area newspaper about my father's Sukkah:
Gets Around the Order Against Building Sukka
The Sukka you see here is not fictitious; it is very real.
When Rabbi "Bob" Gordon, of Winston Towers, was refused permission to build a sukka for the upcoming Sukkot Festival on the grounds of the condominium at which he resides, he refused to be deterred by his friendly neighbors and did something "radical." And, radical, it was. He placed a U-Haul on the parking space allotted to him and constructed a sukka on that U-Haul trailer.
Stare at the sukka! Does it not appear to be different? Is it not unique? Is it not hilarious? A sukka built on a U-Haul, it's for MAD Magazine!!
Yes, at first glance, it may appear to be out of the ordinary. I am sure that even Rabbi Gordon initially grimaced at the thought of observing the laws of sukka in a U-Haul trailer. But, dear editor, stare again at the sukka. This little feeble house has been the cohesive factor of the Jewish people for thousands of years. It is an important part of the "golden chain" that has linked all Jews - however religious or irreligious they may be - together during our courageous history. As the "Four Species" are bound together on sukkot, so have the Jews been bound to one another on sukkot. The sukka has united the Jew of the Western Hemisphere with his brethren of Europe, Africa, Asia and Israel. Thus, the importance of sukka.
Some build their sukka on porches, other on their driveway pavements, while others on their rooftops. But Rabbi Gordon built his on a trailer. He did so not to be comical but out of necessity to properly observe the Sukkot festival and his wish to celebrate and fulfill the holiday precepts.
Now, my friend, stare again at the sukka. Do you see, as I do, a man who is sincere and devoted to his tradition; a man who makes Judaism "live;" a man who sets a fine and positive example for myself and other college students like me. May I publicly say, "Thank you, Rabbi Robert Gordon, for upholding Jewish principles."
by Abraham Isaac Fishweicher
Hebrew Theological College Student
October 28, 1976
Eating our family meals in a U-Haul trailer wasn't without hardship. My mother has been in a wheelchair since the age of two when she was stricken by polio and climbing into the U-Haul Sukkah was an adventure in its own right. Then there was the Chicago weather. Oh, how I don't miss the Chicago weather. Years later when we moved to a 3-story apartment building we built our Sukkah in the backyard. I remember as a teenager waking up one morning in the family Sukkah covered in a thick layer of snow. Yeah, I'll take the Jerusalem weather anytime. I guess all these fond childhood memories are why Sukkot is one of my favorite Torah commandments.
Over the years I have developed a number of personal Sukkot traditions. Those who have been to Jerusalem know the city is plagued with cats. So one personal tradition I practiced for many years was never to sleep in my Sukkah in Jerusalem without my beloved Rhodesian Ridgeback who kept the cats at bay. Sadly, Georgia moved on three years ago to the giant green field in the sky, where she continues to perpetually chase cats until the day of resurrection.