Weekly Chasidic Story #1034 (s5778-03/
12 Tishrei 5778)
The Kansas Sukkah Doctor
Radiation oncologist Dr. Jay Robinow has saved hundreds of lives. That's his
day job. Late into the night he has also saved hundreds of lives, spiritually.
Connection: SUKKOT FESTIVAL
The Kansas Sukkah Doctor
In the office or the hospital right after morning minyan and working
extended hours, radiation oncologist Dr. Jay Robinow has saved hundreds of lives.
That's his day job.
Late into the night, Robinow has also saved hundreds of lives, but spiritually
rather than physically. Since 2007, he has built and/or expanded more than 150
sukkot for people across the state of Kansas.
Profit isn't the motive of this sukkah venture. That's because any proceeds
from Robinow sukkah projects go to the local kollel (institute
for advanced Talmud study), and he also donates at least half of the sukkot
and sukkah parts he has worked with.
For example, Robinow often provides young couples with a sukkah during
their first year living in his community of Overland Park, Kan. He buys and
builds sukkot as wedding gifts and lends a hand to those who cannot afford
a sukkah, such as single mothers or large Orthodox families. He also
makes a habit of donating and building a few sukkot each year for less-observant
families interested in exploring this Jewish ritual. More often than not, the
sukkah leads the latter families to greater engagement with Judaism,
and sometimes even a transformation of their observance.
Robinow created the design for the sukkot he builds. He orders corner
pieces from an online canopy store -he says "they know me by now and all
about Sukkot"- and gets the rest of the sukkah parts fashioned
at the local Home Depot. Because of his day job, he works late into the evening,
often as late as midnight, to get the sukkot built each year.
the years, Robinow has roped his five children into the "business."
His son David, a senior at the local Jewish high school, says many times his
father loads the car with the sukkah gear and drives him and his brother
to a home in the area. Robinow unloads the materials and tells them to get to
work, and returns in a couple of hours. While the boys build one sukkah,
Robinow reloads the car and takes off to build another.
"For me, I'm like the shoemaker's wife," says wife Margie Robinow
with a chuckle. "I had to beg for years to get my sukkah expanded.
Finally, two years ago, he did it."
Single mother Michal Luger says she is still in awe every time she pictures
the night that Robinow drove up to her modest apartment and built her a sukkah-the
first she ever had. Her son, Shai-El, was born the day before Sukkot
and she had always envisioned the household celebrating the holiday in its own
sukkah. But financial circumstances and the inability to erect one on
her own had kept that dream from becoming a reality. Last year, the day before
Shai-El's 10th birthday, at 10 p.m., Robinow surprised her with a sukkah.
"It was really, really exciting and most amazing," reports Luger,
who took dozens of pictures of her son in the sukkah that night and every
night of the holiday (other than Yom Tov) thereafter. Robinow was "as
tired as anyone could be," but he built the sukkah "with the
biggest smile on his face." And Shai-El was so happy that, according to
his mother, he ate every meal in that sukkah during the holiday and invited
all of his friends over for a suk-kah party.
For Marsha Johnston, Robinow was her first introduction to the Kansas City-area
Orthodox Jewish community. "We just couldn't believe Jay was so kind,"
she says, noting that when he put the sukkah up seven years ago her son
was dabbling with observance through the Orthodox youth group NCSY. Today, her
then 14-year-old is a 22-year-old yeshiva student. But whenever he is
in town, he still drags out his mattress and sleeps in Robinow's sukkah.
Todd Natenberg and his wife received their sukkah from Robinow three
years ago, just after the birth of their twin sons. Natenberg says he grew up
with some Jewish traditions, such as celebrating Passover, but he had always
wondered about Sukkot. Robinow came to Natenberg's Leawood, Kansas, home
and the two built the Natenberg sukkah together. Now, Natenberg builds
the sukkah on his own every year.
"Jay is so concerned about the Jewish community," says Natenberg.
"Whether it's by being a radiologist or helping to build sukkahs
in a place like Kansas, he's helping the world. He's a model of Judaism, a model
of what it's all about."
Robinow, however, is humble. "People need sukkahs," he says,
surprised that anyone would be interested in his story.
Yet Robinow admits that it's kind of fun to see his neighborhood, smack in
the middle of a Kansas suburb, decked out with sukkahs. While he can't
take credit for all of them, the community knows he has played a pivotal role
in its "sukkah-fication."
"When we first moved here, there were maybe five or six [sukkahs],"
says Robinow. "Now there are probably 30 or 40. It's real simple."
Source: Condensed and edited by Yerachmiel Tilles from an article written
by Maayan Jaffe (firstname.lastname@example.org) and posted on JNS.org on Sept. 10,
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.
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