Weekly Chasidic Story #1346 (5784-03) 11 Tishrei 5784 (Sept.
"The Floating Sukkah"
The police increased their surveillance. Anything that might be construed as
a possible start to building a sukkah was immediately halted.
Connection: SUKKOT Festival
Story in PDF
format for more convenient printing
The Floating Sukkah
In the year 1915, the governor of the Kiev district in Ukraine was General
O.R. Drentein, a nasty anti-Semite of German origin.
[Wikipedia provides a list of all the governors of Kiev from 1700-1917! General
Alexander Romanovitch Drentein is recorded as the governor from 1881-1888. If
so, the episode above likely took place about three decades earlier than what
is written. --YT]
As the festival of Sukkot was nearing the general sought ways to interfere
with the preparation for the festival by the Jews living in his district.
He was familiar with the Jewish tradition of eating and spending time in the
sukkah  that they built in their gardens.
After deliberating and consultation with the circle of his acquaintances of
like mind, he decided on a malevolent course of action.
Approximately a week before the start of the festival, he publicized a proclamation
that it was forbidden to build sukkot in the district of Kiev. The sukkot constituted
a fire hazard was the official reason provided. Severe punishment was threatened
to those who would transgress the decree.
The farmers of the district received separate orders not to bring wood and
branches into the city in the near future.
The city of Kiev was in upheaval; whoever heard of such a thing! To prevent
the Jewish people from celebrating the festival of Sukkot according to halacha
That same day a delegation was organized, among them one of the richest Jewish
citizens, one successful business man and one well known and talented lawyer.
They requested an urgent meeting with the governor. But General Drentein, realizing
why the meeting was being called, refused to meet with them, giving a transparent
The overwhelming opinion among the greatly indignant Jewish people was not
to give in to the decree. But transgressing it was also impossible. One cannot
build a sukkah inside or in other ways hide it from notice.
The police increased their surveillance. Anything at all that might be construed
as a possible start to building a sukkah was immediately halted by them.
The city's rich and its dignitaries called a meeting to find a solution. Abruptly
the owner of the local shipping company spoke up. "Many ships sail on the
Dnieper River," he said, "We will build a big sukkah on one of the
ships, and the Jewish citizens of the city will be invited to eat their meals
After some thought the lawyer remarked that this idea wasn't a transgression
of the governor's edict. After all, he forbade to build sukkot on the ground
of his district, nothing was said about the water.
It also removed the reason for the decree: the danger of a fire hazard, since
that was not a threat on the water as it was on land.
The participants of the meeting were delighted with this solution. They made
the decision to go forward with the plan in total secrecy, so that not a whisper
of it should reach the general. They had no doubt that he would do everything
in his power to obstruct them.
Two days before the beginning of the festival a place was prepared on one of
the ships, and two huge sukkot were built. One sukkah was built in the First
Class section which was meant for the rich of the town. Another sukkah was built
in the Second Class section for all the other Jewish persons.
The sukkot were built 100% in accordance with the letter of halacha. The staff
of the ship made the kitchens kosher. Enormous amounts of food were prepared
for the expected crowds of people. The owner made it known that the meals were
free of charge for anyone who wanted to observe the mitzvah of "leishev
be sukkah" - 'dwelling in the sukkah.'
The subterfuge was kept a secret till the day before the beginning of the festival.
Only then did a rumor start making the rounds about sukkot that had been built
on a ship, that the Jewish people of Kiev were invited to observe the mitzvah
of sitting in the sukkah.
Several hours before the beginning of the festival the police discovered the
sukkot on the ship. The stared in astonishment at the sukkot, at a loss what
to do. The orders they were given had no instructions about what happened on
the Dnieper. Neither did they have a justification to order the dismantling
of the sukkot on grounds of being a fire hazard.
The Chief of police ran to the governor to inform him of the unexpected turn
of events. General Drentein, stunned, couldn't believe his ears. He demanded
to go see for himself the sukkot built on the river.
The evening had begun and crowds of Jewish people were making their way to
the river in order to observe the mitzvah of Sukkot according to the letter
of the halacha.
The festive meal began with much joy till the whispers started "Drentein
The latter was beside himself with fury. He threatened to send everyone there
At that point, the Rabbi of Kiev stood up to speak. "Sir, honorable Governor,"
he said, "you should be aware that there is nothing that can cause a Jew
to betray his religion. There is no power in the world that is capable of uprooting
from our hearts the mitzvot of the Torah which we received from the Creator
more than three thousand years ago. Our holy Torah instructed us to sit in the
sukkah, and even though we have been in exile close to two thousand years, we
will not desert its commands."
The general listened attentively to the words of the Rabbi. When the Rabbi
finished his emotional address, the general went over to him and, much to the
surprise of everyone present, shook his hand. Immediately after he silently
departed, together with the police officers.
That Sukkot was celebrated by the Jewish people of Kiev with special joy. They
celebrated the festival itself as well as the victory over the people who wanted
to prevent them observing the mitzvot and instead were overcome.
From that day on a change was noticeable in the governor. He stopped trying
the cause trouble for the Jewish people. He even annulled previous decrees he
had passed against them.
Footnote: Many communities have the tradition of sleeping in
the sukkah as well.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the excellent first-draft translation
by C. R. Benami, long-time editorial assistant for AscentOfSafed.com, from Sipureitzadikim@walla.com,
Sukkot 5778 (Oct. 1, 2017) mailing.
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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