Open Sukkah offers a holiday home to weary travelers, city dwellers in Israel
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Open Sukkah offers a holiday home to weary travelers, city dwellers in Israel

‘Airbnb for sukkahs’ connects hosts from Tasmania to Saskatoon with those who don’t have a hut in which to celebrate festival

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Illustrative: Jews in a sukkah in Jerusalem, September 21, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Jews in a sukkah in Jerusalem, September 21, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Along with cars, apartments, swimming pools and work spaces, sukkahs have found their place in the sharing economy with the Open Sukkah platform, which provides a place to spend the Sukkot holiday to anyone who needs one.

Observant Jews mark the weeklong harvest holiday, which starts on Sunday evening, by eating meals and spending time in the self-made outdoor huts.

On the Open Sukkah website, those with sukkahs can post their location and contact information on a map, and anyone who would like to come can get in touch with them or simply show up.

Canadian immigrant to Israel Aaron Taylor, 28, came up with the idea for the free Open Sukkah service three years ago while living in Tel Aviv.

He had moved to Israel from Toronto seven years earlier. He studied in a Yavne yeshiva, served in the paratroopers and completed a degree in business and finance at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center.

Open Sukkah’s platform ahead of Sukkot, 2019. (Screenshot/courtesy)

He followed up the degree with a coding boot camp and was living in Tel Aviv, where urban density can make it hard to find space to construct a sukkah.

“I didn’t have a place to go to sukkah, and I thought to myself ‘there must be people in the area who have sukkahs who would be happy for me to use it’ but I didn’t know where they were,” Taylor said.

“I decided to apply my technical knowledge” to find a solution, he said.

The first version of Open Sukkah, which he created before the 2017 holiday, was a shared Google Map.

Aaron Taylor, creator of Open Sukkah. (Courtesy)

Last year, a more advanced version took off, connecting Sukkot-celebrators with around 200 sukkahs in 20 countries. Roughly 5,000 users visited the platform during the holiday, Taylor said.

He describes the service as an “Airbnb for sukkahs.”

Most hosts register after the Yom Kippur holiday, which ends Wednesday evening, so it’s too early to tell about this year’s numbers, but Taylor said he expects at least as many users as last year.

So far this year, there are sukkahs available in at least 10 countries, including in far-flung locales such as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Tasmania, Australia; and Saskatoon, Canada.

The service is most useful to immigrants, urban dwellers in Israel and Israeli travelers abroad, Taylor said. He also hopes to connect people from different backgrounds inside Israel.

Sukkahs in Jerusalem, September 16, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90).

“Most Israelis who want a sukkah can build one but in cities it has become difficult,” Taylor said. “So people in cities need a solution and it’s also a way for religious Israelis to connect with non-religious families. They can go share a meal — a family who observes Sukkot can host a family who does not.”

The platform is a small addition to the so-called sharing economy, an economic model emphasizing peer-to-peer exchanges of goods and services, usually facilitated by online platforms or apps and defined by companies like Uber and Airbnb.

Taylor designed Open Sukkah for fun, he said, and no money changes hands anywhere on the platform. He has considered expanding to include Shabbat dinners, but for now the modest design will remain as-is.

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