Repurposed shipping containers have become hip homes for everything from hotels to coffee houses. Now, downtown Detroit is set to be the home of what is possibly the word’s first shipping-container sukkah.
“We were looking for something that was consistent with our neighborhood values—something urban, innovative and green,” says Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, co-director of Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit—known locally by as “Chabad in the D”—with his wife, Devorah Leah. “Then someone suggested a shipping container, and it’s exactly what we needed.”
A sukkah is a hut in which Jews eat, drink, pray and socialize every fall during the weeklong Sukkot harvest festival. Being in the temporary shelter with only flimsy foliage above works to connect Jews to their past, as well as brings awareness to human vulnerability and to nature. This year, the eight-day holiday of Sukkot begins on the evening of Oct. 8.
The 40-foot container, says the rabbi, was purchased from the Israeli shipping giant Zim. It will be outfitted with urban graffiti—a mural by artists Sintex and Emor—on one outer wall, and with evergreen boughs to serve as the sechachover the open top.
He adds that this unusual sukkah—right on the Chabad House lawn—will be put to good use.
Lots in the Works
The Pinsons are planning to host several hundred people for a simchat beit hashoeiva (a special celebration during Chol Hamoed, the intermediate days of Sukkot) featuring local artists on Saturday night; a celebration for doctors and nurses from the nearby Detroit Medical Center on Monday night; and a succession of holiday meals for the duration of the holiday.
And as part of the couple’s efforts to bring Judaism to Jews of all ages and backgrounds in the area—especially for these first High Holidays in their new home—the Pinsons will also be hosting, along with Hillel of Metro Detroit, a conventional sukkah on the campus of nearby Wayne State University for students, faculty members and guests.
The rabbi will serve the Detroit business district via a pedi-sukkah and a sukkah-mobile on the back of a pickup-truck, so that young professionals and other Jewish workers can partake in the mitzvah of a waving a lulav and etrog, and having a bite of holiday food to eat.
In the coming years, the rabbi plans to outfit the shipping-container sukkah with solar panels, so that it will generate its own light, as well as other urban-style decor inside and out.
And if anyone is curious about where the container will remain after the holiday, Pinson says it will be stored just outside the city, in one of Detroit’s abundance of empty lots.