The Munkatcher Rebbe’s History-Making Sukkah


munkatch-eli-veghThere are many magnificent sukkahs throughout the world and Boro Park has a large number of them. Most renowned are those of Munkatch and Bobov.

In addition to being a hub of chassidic joy throughout Yom Tov, the Munkatcher sukkahintroduces visitors to some of the great shuls of the past. Surprisingly, many of the pictured shuls are still being used for daily or regular services.

Some 144 enlarged photos have been displayed in the Munkatcher Sukkah for the past nine years. These portraits are a major contribution to Jewish history.

As in years past, thousands of chassidim are expected to join the Munkatcher Rebbe for Sukkos. In addition to experiencing the Munkatcher Rebbe’s spirited Yom Tov tisch, guests will also have the pleasure of viewing the world-class resplendent sukkah ornamented with a visual tour of Jewish history.

Sukkos 5772/2011

The Rebbe, along with world-renowned synagogue photographer Joel Berkowitz, and Cantor Eli Isaac (Robert) Vegh, selected 15 exquisite 20×30 portrait photographs that date as early as the 1100s to enhance the Munkatcher Sukkah this year.

The portraits feature shuls built in The Netherlands, Egypt, France, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Russia. Photographs recently taken in Alexandria and Cairo will be spectacular highlights. Most prominent are three portraits of the famous Ben Ezra Shul, built in 1039. Cairo has only about 80 Jews today – down from nearly 42,000 in 1947.

Joel Berkowitz worked on the selection of photos for many months. With much difficulty and effort he obtained special permits from Dr. Zahi Hawass of the Ministry of Antiquities to photograph the shuls in Egypt.

Dr. Zahi provided armed escorts to each shul. The shuls are under the jurisdiction of and maintained by the Ministry, and each is guarded uninterruptedly.

Only days after Berkowitz’s return from Egypt, the government collapsed after rioting in the streets. The Munkatcher Rebbe characterized his safe departure as a reward for the greatmitzvah of taking the pictures which will be viewed by thousands this Sukkos. At this moment, taking pictures of those shuls is impossible.

Shuls to be shown in the Munkatcher Sukkah include:

  • The Ben Ezra Synagogue of Cairo, built in 1039 and seating 200, is on the site of a shul originally constructed in 350 CE. The current interior was built in 1892 as part of a restoration after a major fire. The shul was again restored in 1990. It is the site where the Rambam’s manuscripts were found in 1897 in its now famous Geniza.
  • Beis medrash, Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, built in 1673. It served the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam, survivors of the Spanish Inquisition, as well as survivors of the Chmielnicki massacres.
  • Choral Synagogue, Bucharest, Romania, built in the late 1800s, is still in daily use. It is the main shul in Bucharest.
  • Choral Synagogue, Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, built in 1876, continues to maintain aminyan.
  • Choral Synagogue, St. Petersburg, Russia. Seating 1,200, construction began in 1859 and the shul was completed in 1893. During the Cold War, everyone entering the shul was photographed and monitored by the KGB.

Today the shul is the center of thriving Jewish life, with daily services. Approximately 350 people attend on Shabbos and thousands on Jewish holidays. The kehilla has more than 400 children in its school, as well as a yeshiva for older students. The Safra Foundation has underwritten restoration of the shul.

  • The Conegliano Synagogue, Veneto, Italy. Built in 1701, it was used until World War II. Since then, the shul has been closed. The interior, including theAron HaKodesh, was removed and transported to Jerusalem, where it serves Jews of Italian heritage.
  • Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, Alexandria, Egypt, built in 1836 and seating 600, presently has services only on Jewish holidays.
  • Moshe ben Maimon Syanagogue, Cairo, built in the 1100s, is adjacent to the yeshiva and medical clinic. It is on the site of the Rambam’s original shul and was restored by the Egyptian government in 2010.
  • The Rambam Yeshiva and Medical Clinic, Cairo, built in 1177 after the Rambam’s arrival in Fostat, now part of Cairo. The Rambam conducted his yeshiva here in addition to treating his patients.
  • Shaar Hashamayim, Cairo, seating 700, was built in 1905 and served as the seat of the chief rabbi of Egypt.

The Exhibition’s Beginnings
Eli Isaac (Robert) Vegh of Lawrence is well known in the world of chazzanus. In addition to being a real estate financier, he is the chazzan for the Yamim Noraim at the Avenue N Jewish Center in Flatbush.

Eli has developed an exceptionably warm relationship with the Munkatcher Rebbe and shares his vacation experiences and shul photographs with him. The Rebbe, who has always had an intense interest in older shuls, asks a myriad of pointed questions, with a focus on whether the shuls continue to maintain traditional Torah practices and values and what their communities are like today.

Eli Vegh found Joel Berkowitz, a member of Congregation Ohab Zedek in Belle Harbor, so engaging that he introduced him and his treasure trove of shul photographs to the Rebbe. Eli suggested the photographs be used as decorations for the magnificent sukkah that Munkatcher chassidim erect every year for their beloved Rebbe.

Eli sponsors the costs of professionally developing, enlarging, and framing the photographs in a special high-tech photo lab, and he and Joel carefully research and prepare the brief historical descriptions included in the flyers distributed in the sukkah. Not only do visitors see the shuls, they also learn the shul’s histories.

The Munkatcher Sukkah experience is unique for its beauty and ongoing historical contribution.

{Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum-Machberes/ Newscenter}


  1. when the Rbbe is not conducting tisch and few men are in the sukkah, women are most welcome.
    The pictures are definitely worth the effort. In years gone by they were always a big hit. Those pictures alone make the munkatcher sukkah a definite stop. ad to that the sukkah’s exceptional beauty.