Rochel Burstyn Contributing Writer
The Werner brothers are miniature Chabad emissaries taking the Sukkot mitzvah to neighbors.
Folks can get creative with erecting a sukkah, as it can be out of almost any material. What’s sweet is when the youngest of kids get in on the action and head outside to share what they’ve learned about the holiday with other Jews in the neighborhood.
One such experience happened to property manager Dan Rich of Oak Park. When he first heard an unexpected knock at the door in October 2014, he opened it to find two smiling little boys on his porch. An older boy accompanying them hung back slightly. Rich initially thought they were after a donation or offering lawn services, but that assumption was dashed as the young boy held out his lulav and etrog and offered Dan the chance to shake them.
“I was so touched,” Dan said with emotion. “He explained that it was Sukkot, that the lulav and etrog symbolize all the different Jews and how we hold them together because we are one nation. He told me what blessing to say and helped me shake.”
That boy, Yossi Werner, at the time, all of 8 years old, now 12, is the son of Rabbi Shea and Hadassah Werner of Bais Chabad of North Oak Park. He has continued to visit his neighbors every Sukkot since while his mom watches from their porch.
The family are Chabad and follow the guidelines of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who instructed his followers to bring Torah and mitzvot to all Jews, no matter their affiliation.
Young Yossi said he does so “because the Rebbe said to” but admits, “It feels really good. I’m doing something that helps other people and I’m very happy to do it.”
Yossi is often joined by his brothers, Avromi, 10, and Zalmy, 8, who had the important job at age 4 of knocking on the doors.
Last year, the three brothers made a miniature sukkah on wheels out of extra pieces of wood and cloth which they put on a wagon and pulled along with their bike.
“Eating in a sukkah and shaking lulav and etrog in sukkos is such a special mitzvah,” Yossi said. “I want to help people who don’t have a sukkah to still get the mitzvah.”
Their makeshift sukkah could fit two grownups at a time — if they sucked in their stomachs and didn’t move around too much.
The Werner brothers rode around their neighborhood looking for Jewish folks and found two ladies who were enchanted with their miniature sukkah and were willing to shake the lulav and etrog.
“Even though it wasn’t my mitzvah, I feel like I accomplished something when the ladies made the brachah,” Zalmy said.
Unfortunately, the wagon wasn’t stable and after a few hours of riding, their little sukkah fell apart. This year, the brothers hope to try again with a sturdier wagon.
Rich always appreciates being remembered and included at holiday time — not only at Sukkot, but also with Chanukah and Purim gifts, sometimes left on his doorstep if he’s not home when they visit.
“Yossi is adorable,” he said. “You can see the enthusiasm he has for the mitzvot and it makes you excited for Judaism, too. Of course, this is what he was taught and trained to do, but you can see his excitement doing it. It’s so cute, all this energy — I couldn’t break his heart and not participate!”
It also evokes positive childhood memories for Rich. “Some of what Yossi tells me — to shake the lulav north, south, east and west — I remember from when I was a kid in Hebrew school.”