A Mobile Feast: Sukkot on Wheels During the Yom Kippur War

Rare photos reveal how IDF soldiers managed to fulfill the commandment to “sit in the sukkah”, even as war raged in the north and south

A sukkah on an IDF vehicle, October 1973. The Nathan Fendrich Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Yom Kippur War took its name from the sacred fast day on which the deadly conflict broke out and surprised the State of Israel. The sirens wailed on Saturday, October 6, at 1:55 pm. However, it is worth remembering that the war was still underway during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot which took place soon after. Thus, enlisted and reserve soldiers found themselves “celebrating” the harvest festival on the frontlines in both the Sinai Desert in the south and the Golan Heights in the north.

An improvised sukkah on an armored personnel carrier. October 17, 1973. Photo: Eli Landau, the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

“IDF soldiers are exempt from the sukkah commandment,” the chief military rabbi, Brigadier-General Mordechai Piron stated in a special proclamation on Sukkot in the midst of the Yom Kippur War. “Their duty at this time is to completely defeat and destroy the enemy,” the rabbi stated, “and whoever is unable to perform the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah is exempt from it.”

Despite this unequivocal declaration, there were soldiers who nevertheless tried to observe the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah, even at the front. What probably drove the battle-weary soldiers was their desire for even a little of the holiday atmosphere, a brief respite.

A reporter for the Al HaMishmar newspaper who accompanied the soldiers in the difficult battles along the Suez Canal in the south reported in Hebrew: “Despite the bitter fighting, there is no forgetting that civilian life goes on. On the frontline we discovered an improvised sukkah: a half-track vehicle decorated with branches, completely kosher.”

In the collections of the National Library of Israel we found several rare photographs documenting soldiers erecting improvised sukkot on jeeps and other military vehicles. It’s unclear if all of these creative sukkah booths fulfill the  requirements according to Jewish law, but it is very possible that for the soldiers at the front, they provided some joy and a sense of home during difficult days.

A sukkah on an army vehicle in the Golan, 1973. The Nathan Fendrich Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Among the photos that stand out in particular are those taken by the photographer Nathan Fendrich. The 39-year-old Jewish-American tourist had come to Israel to document historical and archaeological sites. Finding himself “stuck” in Israel at the outbreak of the war, he decided to travel between the various fronts armed with his camera. Among hundreds of fascinating photographs, we found a handful documenting some improvised sukkot.

A sukkah on an army vehicle in the Golan Heights. The Nathan Fendrich Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel
A sukkah on an army vehicle. The Nathan Fendrich Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Sukkot holiday of 1973 began under the shadow of desperate battles on both fronts, with real concern for the survival of the Jewish state, but by the end of Sukkot the turning point had come, and IDF forces moved from defense to offense. A journalist for Maariv reported on October 17 from deep in Syrian territory:

“On the main road approaching Hushniya—in between two damaged tanks, a yellowing thatch blows in the wind covering an improvised sukkah. A soldier from the Combat Engineering Corps tells us: ‘The guys from the armored division set up the sukkah. Yes, they managed to fulfill the mitzvah of sitting in it, before they were called to destroy the last enemy pocket at the Hushniya junction.’”


The Nathan Fendrich Collection has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of The Leir Foundation.

A Half-Angel, Half-Demon Named Azazel and His Connection to Yom Kippur

What are the strange biblical origins of the term "scapegoat"? And what does it have to do with the Jewish Day of Atonement?

The demon Azazel from the Dictionnaire Infernal

You may or may not be aware that the word Azazel is often used in modern Hebrew in a similar function to the word “Hell” in English – as in a place where you can tell someone particularly annoying to go to. Some of you may also have heard of the ancient Jewish practice, dating from before the destruction of the temple, of se’ir la’azazel (“a goat for Azazel“), the ritual of sending a goat into the wilderness as atonement for the sins of the people, hence the term scapegoat. But did you know that Azazel was also the name of a dangerous and destructive angel, who according to Jewish mystical tradition, was responsible for teaching humans some of history’s most horrible lessons?

So, who exactly is this rebellious angel Azazel and how is he related to Yom Kippur?

HaSe’ir La’Azazel, Leora Wise. This is the second engraving in a series of nine on the scapegoat, inspired by Goya’s “Los caprichos”. Printed in the Jerusalem Print Workshop. For the series on Leora’s website: https://www.artleora.com/scapegoat

And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for the LORD, and offer him for a sin-offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before the LORD, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness. [Leviticus 16, 8-10]

It begins with an age-old tradition rooted in the Bible that took place once a year on Yom Kippur. On that day, a day of atonement and fasting, the high priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and bring with him a sacrifice to the God of Israel. After leaving the temple, he cast lots for the two goats. The first would be sacrificed to God on the spot, and the second would be sent into exile to Azazel, after all the sins of Israel had been transferred to it. The casting of the lot symbolized God’s choice of the se’ir la’azazel (the scapegoat to be sent to exile to Azazel).

How are we to understand the instruction to send this creature to Azazel? It all depends of course on the meaning of the word Azazel. According to the Talmudic Sages, the word Azazel, which is mentioned three times in the Bible, is the name of a particular cliff or especially treacherous mountain (Az-el). They explained that on Yom Kippur the high priest would cast lots and decide which goat would be sent to Azazel. Then an emissary would accompany the goat that was selected to the location, some 7 miles from Jerusalem, and there he would throw the poor goat off the cliff to its death.

From the Lenkin Family Collection, the National Library of Israel

There is also another way of understanding the word Azazel, and that is as the name of a supernatural being to whom the poor goat must be sacrificed. If God is the essence of good, Azazel is an evil demon or a lesser god that is fed by the sins of the people.

This second interpretation comes from the Jewish apocrypha, or more specifically the First Book of Enoch, which details Azazel’s awful nature. Here there is no trace of a helpless animal forced to carry the sins of the collective through no fault of its own. Rather, Azazel is the rebellious angel at the head of a heavenly plot to take over the earth.

The First Book of Enoch retells the story cited in Genesis (6, 1–4) of the angels who had relations with the daughters of men. The offspring of their unnatural union were the nefilim—giants of renown who filled the earth. Enoch, the seventh generation between Adam and Noah, is naturally the central figure of this book and is chosen to bring God’s message to the rebellious angels. One of those evil angels, and second in importance only to their leader Shemhazai, is our Azazel.

Azazel’s influence on mankind is destructive and eternal: he “taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all coloring tinctures.”  He teaches humans not only how to make weapons of war, he shows them the power of artifice and hypocrisy. And as a result of this destructive influence, “there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways.”

Although Enoch warned the rebellious angels, they remained steadfast in their destructive ways. And were punished for it. Thus, Azazel finds himself bound in the desert. This is in fact an original and interesting explanation of the origin of the sacrifice of the scapegoat in the desert:

And again the Lord said to Raphael: ‘Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire.”

Azazel appears in other Jewish works from the first centuries CE, and even more interestingly, he has a starring role in various Christian traditions. The religion that grew out of Judaism also preserved something of the scapegoat from the Book of Leviticus. According to some of the early Church Fathers, Azazel was even one of the names of the devil himself. Is it any wonder that so many illustrations show the devil with the hindquarters and hooves of a goat?

So the next time you decide to make someone a scapegoat, or heaven forbid wish someone a long visit to hell or some other desolate wilderness, we recommend that you hurry and cool off, appease your demons and prove to the devilish Azazel that you were just joking. There’s really no need for all that -after all, the modern kapparot (atonement) chicken is the natural heir to the Biblical and Talmudic scapegoat—a helpless creature onto which we transfer all our sins on the Jewish calendar’s Day of Atonement.

Who ‘Fixed’ the Jewish Calendar?

A glimpse at the Jewish year across time and space

These moveable wheels known as "volvelles" appear in an 18th century Germany manuscript called Sefer Evronot. They allowed readers to keep track of the Jewish calendar. From the National Library of Israel collection

In ancient Israel, there was no fixed calendar.

New months were only declared by the rabbinic court after witnesses came to testify that they had seen the new moon.

In this way, each month essentially reflected a partnership between the Jewish people who declared the moon and God who mandated that certain days be sacred, dedicated to sacrifices and celebration.

Using astronomical calculations instead of witnesses, a sage by the name of Hillel the Second boldly established the set Jewish calendar in the 4th century, a few centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

This is the calendar still used by Jews across the world until today!

Check out the clip below for a glimpse at a 900 year-old Jewish calendar and other rare treasures from the National Library of Israel’s world-leading collection, as well as some insights into how the Jewish year was recorded and remembered across the world over the centuries.

The film is part of “A Look at the Jewish Year,” a series presented by the National Library of Israel in collaboration with the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, which provides insights into the Jewish calendar and holidays through the lens of the National Library of Israel’s world-leading collection of Jewish manuscripts, books, printed materials and more.

The project also includes source sheets with questions and links to additional materials that can be used to help lead group discussions and activities or enriched personal reflection.

Rosh Hashanah Pilgrimage Under Fire

Border smuggling, dancing, and prayer - What did Breslov Hasidim do when war made their annual trip to Uman a true matter of life and death?

The structure that once covered the grave of Rabbi Nahman of Uman. Seated in the doorway is the Hasid Rabbi Alter Teplicker who was murdered by an anti-Semitic mob during the Russian civil war in 1919. The photo was taken before 1910.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, some young Jewish men in Poland discovered the figure and writings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. All but unknown in Poland at that time, there were small circles of Breslov Hasidim living in a number of towns in Ukraine and in the Land of Israel, but they had little influence. The journey of these young Jewish men to Uman in Ukraine, where they participated in the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) prayers together with other Breslov adherents proved to be a constitutive event for them. On their return to Poland, the young men began to spread the word and induce others to join their “new” discovery; and so began the Polish Breslov movement. Breslov followers in Poland became famous for their annual pilgrimage to Uman, and in the press and on the street they were referred to as the “Uman Hasidim” and the “Dancing Hasidim traveling to Uman.”

The Uman pilgrimage focused around Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Nachman’s disciple, Rabbi Natan, who interpreted his teacher’s remark uttered at the end of his life, “my Rosh Hashanah,” to mean the period after his death, was responsible for instigating the gathering around Rabbi Nachman’s gravesite. “That people might then receive tikkunim [spiritual rectification], which all year long it was not possible for them to receive in any way […] the main thing is to be with me.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Korman sitting in the sukkah. Courtesy of the Korman family

In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution swept through Russia, followed by a civil war. The “Red,” “White” and “Green” armies battled each other, but the Jews were often a target for all of them. This made the journey to Uman much more dangerous than usual.

In a Rosh Hashanah announcement from 1955 (courtesy of Rabbi Shmuel Tefilinski), Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Korman (one of the leaders of the Hasidim in Poland who immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in the mid-1930s and worked at the Schocken Institute in the late 1940s) recalls this period:

The many dangers of gathering on Rosh Hashanah at Uman began from then [1918] – even from Ukraine – because of the gangs of murderers (may their memories be erased). And our brethren [Breslov Hasidim] from Poland, out of longing for Uman, endangered themselves, but many were imprisoned and disappeared, God have mercy, and two were killed on the border near the town of Ostra, as is known. And since then the road had become very difficult and visitors from Poland stopped coming to Uman…

From Shomrei Mishpat, Lodz, 1934. National Library of Israel

Some of the movement’s leaders vociferously opposed the dangerous border smuggling. For example, Rabbi Yitzhak Breiter wrote in a 1923 letter to a young Hasid who was considering traveling from the Land of Israel to Uman:

“And our opinion is that it is unwarranted to travel to Uman at present, when [heavenly] protection shows it does not agree … Furthermore, he is not permitted this nonsense that might endanger himself along the way. And this folly might endanger him over days and rivers and borders and he does so out of fastidiousness, which our Master z”l [of blessed memory] was most emphatically against…”

[She’erit Yitzhak, pp. 42–43]

Instead, the movement’s leaders offered new prayers and rituals as a way to fill the void. With the cessation of visits to Uman, they decided to hold a “kibbutz” (gathering) in the city of Lublin, known as the “Jerusalem of Poland” on Rosh Hashanah. Beginning in 1930, they prayed at the Hakhmei Lublin Yeshiva, at the invitation and with the participation of the head of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Meir Shapira, who also famously initiated the “Daf Yomi” daily Talmud study regimen.

In addition to the hundreds of letters from among his broad correspondence with Breslov followers in Poland and Ukraine, Korman preserved several documents and leaflets of Polish Breslov Hasidim, which he left to the Shocken Institute, including: Kol Kore BaMidbar [A Voice in the Wildnerness] from 1932 (pictured below). According to the handwritten announcement, copied in stencil (for duplication and distribution to the public), when

“the path to Uman to prostrate on the tomb of the late Rabbi on the eve of Rosh Hashanah was blocked and to determine a place for the continuation of the Rebbe of blessed memory’s tikkunim [rectifications] in his synagogue there — then our brethren in Poland decided to gather and determine the place in the city of Lublin where our late Rebbe of blessed memory’s spiritual Rosh Hashanah rectifications [tikunei] could continue.”

The authors of the declaration understood the essence of the gathering in Uman was “to determine a place for the continuation of the Rosh Hashanah rectifications of the late Rebbe.” “Determining the place” worked to sanctify the place, and prepare it as a tool for the appearance of the “light of our late rabbi of blessed memory” in a barren world. Participation in the kibbutz — even just arriving to it and breaking through the obstacles and barriers involved in reaching it — leads to a noticeable spiritual renewal, and to the “longing for a true simple faith … which is the true tikkun olam [repair of the world].”

The rectification that happens in this gathering is not only for the Hasidim — and not only for the Jewish people — but for the whole world: “For his soul and for the whole world”; “And all the judgements shall be sweetened above us, for all Israel and for all of the world.”

Kol Koreh BaMidbar. Korman Collection, Shocken Institute for Jewish Research (KC-L-10)

Additional documents from the Korman Collection at the Schocken Institute shed light on Breslov “kibbutzim” in Poland during the Holocaust.

In a unique letter from the beginning of the war, in 1940, the Hasid Rabbi Zvi Lasker, a student of Breiter’s, writes to Korman, from Vilnius (where he fled, ahead of the city’s conquest by the Germans):

“Was there a Rosh Hashanah kibbutz this year?  Although there was a kibbutz in Warsaw, woe to the kibbutz that prays under a flood of bombs, shooting, fires and strange deaths from the ‘demons of the world’ [מזיקי עלמא]. Let me try to give you on cold paper — which can withstand everything — a brief summary of the battles of our Rebbe’s people.”

With great literary flair, Lasker describes the Rosh Hashanah prayers of Breslov followers during the German bombing of Warsaw, about two weeks after the outbreak of the war (the bombings had come after three days of quiet, which gave the city’s Jews hope that there would be a peaceful holiday, a hope which quickly proved false).

The Hasid Rabbi Beirech Rubensohn (Robinson), who lost his family in the Holocaust, survived Auschwitz and moved to America and later to Israel, wrote in 1947 to Korman about Rosh Hashanah in the middle of the war:

“And in the year 1941, on Rosh Hashanah with God’s help there was a gathering in the city of Apt (Opatów), where they [the Hasidim] prayed together, and also danced.”

I conclude with more recent history. On a trip around Rosh Hashanah (in the pre-Covid era), on a flight from Ukraine to the Czech Republic that was filled to brim with Hasidim and their guitars, I stood in the aisle at the back of the plane to do some yoga. A young Czech flight attendant approached me (perhaps the yoga made him feel like we could communicate), and shared with me his bewilderment at the unconventional pilgrims. He had heard of the pilgrimage (all of Eastern Europe is abuzz because of it), but he wanted to understand what it was all about.

I said to him:

“Buried in Uman is a man who said there is no reason at all for despair. The devotees believe that by traveling to his grave, they project encouragement and hope to all who are in need of it, to all the broken and depressed, all over the whole world, just by their being there.”

He was touched by this thought.

May “all the judgements of the Jewish people and of the world be sweetened,” Amen.