The corner of Main Street and Jewel Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills is “on one hand a lousy location,” says Marvin Gruza, who has lived in the Queens neighborhood 20 years. Loud buses go by every few minutes.
“On the other hand,” he says, “I’m in the perfect location.”
A perfect location for doing chesed.
On Rosh HaShanah, he sets up a table in front of his house and offers refreshments to members of the community walking to tashlich at nearby Flushing Meadow Lake. “Water and soda and pretzels and cookies.”
And on Sukkot he builds a sukkah on the porch of his house. A second sukkah; for strangers.
Since he moved into his present home five years ago, he has put up the 11-by-8-foot canvas hut in front of his house, stocked it with plates and other paper goods, equipped it with a washing station for people making the ritual washing over bread, left a light on 24/7, and kept it open for anyone who needs a place to eat or make the blessings over the lulav and etrog.
A sign in front of the house announces the sukkah’s availability.
In an area where many Jewish families live in apartment buildings that lack space for a sukkah, “a lot of people don’t have access to a sukkah,” says Gruza, above, with Calev, 11 an accountant and lecturer at Queens College who started building his sukkah this week right after Yom Kippur. On a typical holiday day, 25 to 30 people — people he doesn’t know — end up on his porch. No reservations needed. “People flow in and out. People don’t come as a group,” he says. Inside, “they talk to each other.
“Sukkot isn’t just about the lulav and etrog coming together,” Gruza says. “Sukkot is about Jews coming together.”
Around the corner, Jews from Kew Gardens Hills and from other neighborhoods shopped this week for lulav and etrog sets, inset, and bought pre-fab sukkah kits.
During the year, Gruza and his wife Miriam, fully supportive of her husband’s chesed, host people for Shabbat meals and home hospitality.
“We have lots of guests,” he says. When they were dating, he says, the first question he asked was, “Will you be a partner with me in having guests over?”