One of the central practices of the week-long holiday of Sukkot is “Ushpizin” or welcoming guests, but the pluralistic, independent Beit Tefilah Israeli has taken the tradition a step further. It plans to welcome upwards of 25,000 people to what it says is the world’s largest sukkah, a 700-square-meter (7,000 square feet) extravaganza constructed for the fifth year running at the Tel Aviv Port.
“This is a place where we can meet different sectors of Israeli society in celebration — ultra-Orthodox, Reform, Ethiopian Jews, and also Arabs,” said Rabbi Esteban Gottfried, one of the two rabbis of Beit Tefilah Israeli along with Rabbi Rani Jaeger. “We have activities for everyone. We also have some [religious] ceremonies, but the main theme is living together with all the sectors of Israeli society.”
During Sukkot, which begins Wednesday evening, the so-called “World’s largest sukkah” will host 72 different events, including daily yoga, dance, children’s activities, study sessions, lectures, and musical performances. The sukkah will also host an evening dedicated to exploring the relationship between American and Israeli Jews with a panel including MK Yehudah Glick and former MK Ruth Calderon.
Beit Tefilah Israeli is an 11-year-old independent, pluralistic group based at the Tel Aviv port. It is known for its summertime Friday night Shabbat services, which can attract upwards of 1,000 people.
This is the fifth year it has built an enormous sukkah, a wood and fabric affair that it takes a professional company eight days to assemble.
The Jerusalem municipality also builds a large sukkah next to City Hall. That sukkah is larger than the one in Tel Aviv at 1,000 square meters (11,000 square feet), and is expected to host upwards of 100,000 visitors at a multitude of events.
“What I love about this project and being the rabbi of BTI is meeting the people. It’s so amazing to see how many people from different parts of Israel are feeling at home and welcomed and included no matter where they come from,” said Gottfried. “For example, you can see in the sukkah refugee children playing with Haredi children and images you cannot see anywhere else, of different parts of Israel getting together. It’s really a ‘sukkat shalom’ (a sukkah of peace) in that sense.”