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Flash floods during first night of Sukkot wreak havoc in NYC

Heavy rains in the tristate area of the US have coincided with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which is traditionally celebrated outdoors. The rain has disrupted plans and led to a variety of responses from rabbis and Jewish communities.

In the tristate area, many Jews, including Mark Vogel, who resides in Riverdale and operates a website about Jewish and kosher travel, have been facing the challenge of celebrating Sukkot, the most outdoor holiday on the Jewish calendar, amidst heavy rains and flooding. Vogel shared a video on Instagram showing his sukkah being pounded by rain in his flooded backyard, expressing his regret for not building an ark instead. The situation has led to a state of emergency in New York City, with over 8 inches of rain at John F. Kennedy airport by Friday afternoon, and more expected into Saturday.

Sukkot, which begins Friday night, involves eating meals and even sleeping in the sukkah, an outdoor hut with a roof made from tree branches, symbolizing the Israelites' journey in the desert and the need for divine protection. However, the heavy rain has made these observances nearly impossible, forcing most New Yorkers to accept that they will be dining indoors on the holiday's first night. This has sparked various theological and practical responses from both rabbis and everyday Jews, as they navigate the challenges caused by the inclement weather.

Linda Gisselle Roth, who splits her time between New York City and Connecticut, expressed her disappointment on Facebook, stating that the continuous rain made her feel like God was displeased. She longed to spend the first night of Sukkot in her sukkah and requested the rain to stop. While rain is common during Sukkot in the United States, the rainy season in Israel typically starts right after the holiday.

Observant Jews have different customs when it comes to dealing with rain on Sukkot. Some avoid the sukkah entirely, while others quickly recite blessings over wine and challah in the sukkah before continuing the meal indoors. Chabad adherents strive to eat in the sukkah under almost all circumstances. In heavily Jewish areas like Teaneck, New Jersey, a local rabbi provided a comprehensive guide on what to do if it rains on the holiday, suggesting blessings be said in the sukkah before moving indoors.

Rabbis on social media delved into the theological aspects of the weather, with some referencing a passage from the Mishnah that likens rain on Sukkot, following the effort of building a sukkah, to a servant presenting wine to their master, only to have water thrown back at them. Rabbi Ysoscher Katz expressed the view that nasty weather during Sukkot signifies God's displeasure. Rabbi Ethan Tucker encouraged people to empathize with the feeling of rejection that comes with not being able to execute plans as intended.

Despite the challenges, some New Yorkers remained positive, promoting Sukkot dinner under the stars, even if it meant eating indoors. Others drew parallels to seasonal events, wishing Sukkot had rain dates like baseball games. For Mark Vogel, the rain was particularly unfortunate as he had built a larger sukkah this year to accommodate friends and family after scaling down due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic, stating that while they cannot control the weather, they will make the best of the situation.

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