The (Not Quite So) Suburban Jewish Holiday

MLewyn's picture

I have written about the uneasy relationship between Judaism and suburbanization: low density makes it difficult for Jews to live within walking distance of synagogues and generally makes it difficult to create a cohesive community.   

But the holiday of Sukkot (which I just finished observing) may seem at first glance to create a counterexample.  During this holiday, Jews should eat meals in a hut called a sukkah.  This is obviously not so easy where (as in my neighborhood) most people live in apartment buildings, since you cannot easily create a sukkah inside, and most apartments in my neighborhood do not have balconies.  Most synagogues have enough space for a sukkah- but I suspect that in denser areas such as parts of Manhattan, even this might not always be possible.  Thus, it seems that apartment-dominated neighborhoods are not the easiest place to observe Sukkot.  

It does not follow, however, that sukkahs are only viable in suburban sprawl.  In the heavily Jewish Queens neighborhood of Kew Gardens Hills, two-family residences seem to be the dominant form of housing.  Because it is much easier to build a sukkah in the back (or front) of a duplex than it is in an apartment building, sukkahs seem to be quite common in Kew Gardens Hills.

But Kew Gardens Hills is hardly typical sprawl; it has just over 21,000 people per square mile (more than any American city outside New York) and only about half of its residents drive to work (despite the fact that the neighborhood's core is about a 30 minute walk from the nearest subway stop).  Thus, the apparently high number of sukkahs in Kew Gardens Hills is evidence that Sukkot coexists well with low-rise urbanism.


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