During the 28 years I have lived in Rockland County’s Monsey/Spring Valley area, I put up a standard wooden sukkah in my backyard every year. My children, as they grew up, helped me.
When my children moved out — for yeshiva or for marriage — I had to put it up by myself. Doing so as I aged — I’m now 58 — became harder. I thought there must be an easier way.
I remembered passing by the house of a neighbor who had put up a small sukkah made of red Coca-Cola crates. At the time, it had not interested me at all.
Then, I gave it second consideration. Maybe I could do the same thing — if I had a sukkah like that, the walls could stay up the entire year. Then I would not have to work so hard every year — all I would need to do is put on the schach (roof covering) and decorations.
My wife Leah a registered nurse, didn’t like the idea of a Coke sukkah. “Not realistic,” she said. She could not imagine that I could collect enough crates.
Where would I get enough for a large sukkah? My wife and I like to invite many guests to our sukkah every year.
I went back to the neighbor’s house two years ago. I asked him where and how he obtained his crates. It turned out that he was interested in having a “regular” sukkah, and was willing to part with his crates – about 200.
Children from the neighborhood helped me load them in my van. From these, I constructed a small (7 ½-by-11-foot) sukkah in the driveway, next to the wall of our house. We ate there and slept there, weather permitting.
Then I thought, maybe I can get enough to build a larger sukkah on the patio. I started looking, networking – ads on monseyshuls.com, one in a community newspaper: “Looking for Coca-Cola crates, building a sukkah.” I would ask everyone I met.
The efforts soon started to pay dividends.
One of the neighborhood children said he saw crates in a different neighbor’s backyard. That neighbor was also willing to part with them – another 150.
Then I went to buy a used car from a family that was making aliyah. They had 200 crates in their backyard, which they agreed to give away.
Next, a lead to a family in Brooklyn, whose in-laws had eaten a Shabbos meal with us — another 200.
From the newspaper ad, 100 more.
Someone in shul told me about a supermarket that might have Coke crates. In back of the store, on abandoned railroad tracks, was a large pile embedded in other refuse. The store’s owner said, “Take whatever you want.” I hired a young man to extract them — about 400. They were all filthy; I had to clean each one individually in the backyard with a garden hose.
The total has reached to over 1,200 crates. I’ve never made an exact count.
Was it legal for me to own Coke crates? I called Coke headquarters. Officials there were not interested in having them back.
I spoke to my rabbi before I put up my sukkah. It is fully kosher, even conforming to the stringent “Chazon Ish” requirements — absolutely no nails. The crates are all interlocked with each other. Stronger than a regular sukkah, it’s already survived storms and rain and strong winds.
For the schach that goes on top, I use 12-foot bamboo poles as a base for schach mats. Our “eating sukkah” is now on the patio. It’s 17 feet long, 12 wide and 6 ½ high; it can seat 25 people.
With just a little expenditure of time and effort, at minimal cost, I acquired an “all year” sukkah. There is no downside, unless you like building sukkahs.
The sukkah stays up the whole year — that’s the best part.
Every time I look out of my dining room window, I see the one on the patio.
To have purchased new panels for a sukkah could have cost hundreds of dollars; I would have to put it up and take it down every year.
I never thought I would end up with so many crates. When you put your mind to doing something, you can get it done. I did my hishtadlus (effort); Hashem helped.
People are fascinated. Now, my wife is proud of it.
The ironic part: I don’t drink Coke. I try not to drink soda.
I’m still looking for more crates — I could add a row on top.
Shmuel Wieder, a data supports specialist, lives in Monsey, Rockland County. He can be reached at slmw50@gmail.