The Succah Contest - a fun story for the fall

There's a Succah Contest every year in the village of Chelm, and every year Reb Cantor the Merchant wins. Until…


While January 1is the official calendar start, school starts in September, so I hope you've had a wonderful beginning to your year. 

As you may know, I often write and sometimes perform under the pen name of Izzy Abrahmson. My motto: “You don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy The Village Life."

This is one of my favorite written stories, which is rarely performed. It works for readers and listeners of all ages, which is part of the fun.

Sukkot is an autumn harvest festival, which begins this year on September 29. It’s traditional to eat in a temporary house called… a succah. It must sit beneath the open sky, and if it’s not raining you can see the stars.

Read it below, or listen on Spotify - (and some other podcast platforms - search for "The Village Life Podcast")

Please feel free to share this with your friends, family and community members.

- Mark Binder (Izzy)
Storytelling and books for all ages at
Succah Image By Zachi Evenor - Flickr:
CC BY 2.0,

The Succah Contest

by Izzy Abrahmson 

Every year in the village of Chelm there was a contest to see who could erect the best and most beautiful succah, and every year Reb Cantor, the merchant, won.

It was no wonder. He was the richest man in the village. He hired workers, he hired craftsmen, he hired plumbers.  Every year his succah grew larger and more impressive. At the Cantors’ Succos feast, there was room inside their succah for every man, woman and child in Chelm. And he invited the whole village. It was a meal that everyone enjoyed.

But the Succos contest? The other villagers grew discouraged. Why should they bother, why work so hard? Let the merchant win.

Reb Cantor decided that this was intolerable, so he offered a purse of 100 rubles to the winner.

Now the people of Chelm were interested. They got creative. The sound of hammers filled the village from dawn until dark. Everyone was so excited. They could hardly wait for the judging, which would be held on the afternoon of the festival’s first day.

On the first night of Succos, everyone enjoyed Reb and Mrs. Cantor’s feast and marveled at the exquisite beauty of his succah.

The poles were carved olive wood from the Holy Land.

The roof, through which you could see the stars, was one giant lulav woven from Egyptian palm fronds, Lebanese myrtle, and willow branches from nearby Smyrna.

The walls were made from white silken sheets from China, and the on floor, covering the poor dirt of Chelm, was glittering white sand from the beaches near the Sea of Galilee.

Even the harvest bounty hanging from the ceiling beams was exotic: figs from Turkey, grapes from Italy, and oranges from Miami.

That night, Reb Cantor had hugged his wife, Shoshanna, and bragged, “Well, it’s good that everyone is so excited about the contest. Too bad that, as usual, I am going to win.”

Shoshanna Cantor wasn’t so sure. She had roamed the village, and watched the construction, but she patted her husband’s bald head and smiled anyway.

A cold gray dawn rose on the first day of Succos. The autumn wind was frigid from the East, bringing unwelcome hints of an icy winter to come.

The panel of judges, Rabbi Kibbitz, Mrs. Chaipul, and Bulga the Fisherman, walked through the streets, bundled warm in their coats, with their hands shoved deeply into their pockets.

Each succah of Chelm seemed more magnificent than the next.

Jacob Schlemiel, the carpenter, and his family had constructed a fabulous seven-sided booth without using a single nail.

Reb Shikker, the accountant, had paper walls covered with the mystical numerology of the Kaballah.

Reb Cohen the tailor had stitched his succah with such care and detail that it stood upright with just a single pole.

Reb Stein, the baker had baked his succah into a pumpernickel-rye swirl. Some said that a man might feast for a year on the walls of that succah and never feel hunger.

How could the judges pick? It was starting to get dark, so Reb Cantor suggested that the villagers all come back to his succah for another dinner before declaring a winner.

As they sat down, the cold wind began to rise, so they ate with their coats on.

The food was as delicious and warm as the day was raw and miserable. They started with steaming chicken soup with kreplach. Then came the warm rolls, mouthwatering noodle kuegel, and piping hot brisket with an abundance of freshly baked knishes.

Every once in a while, Shoshanna Cantor would look up through the roof at the dark clouds gathering in the sky above, and say a prayer that the rain would hold off at least until after dessert – home made apple strudel with walnuts and honey.

Such a feast!

As soon as Rabbi Kibbitz set down his fork with a contented, but audible, belch, the downpour began. It was a miracle it had held off for that long.

Between flashes of lighting, Reb Cantor’s wonderful succah emptied as everyone ran home and shuttered their windows tight.

And such a storm. The wind blew with the fury of a rabid dog. Rain fell in buckets, in barrels, in bathtubs! And the thunder and lightning, sounded  like a battle, as if the heavens themselves were crackling with fire.

The children of Chelm all hid under their beds with their hands over their ears.

The next morning, I am sad to say, every succah in the village had been blown away.

Not a stitch was left of the tailor’s.

Not a crumb remained of the baker’s.

There weren’t any splinters from the carpenter’s,

and of the accountant’s succah there was no accounting.

Worst of all, Reb Cantor’s magnificent palace of a such was completely gone.  Demolished, destroyed, flattened like a potato pancake.

The poor merchant was heart broken. He nearly wept.  All the silk, all the wood, all the fruit...

“At least,” Reb Cantor sighed to Rabbi Kibbitz, “I’ve still got my hundred rubles.”

But just then little Doodle, the village orphan came running up. “Rabbi Kibbitz Rabbi Kibbitz Rabbi Kibbitz   

“What Doodle?”        

Rabbi Kibbitz Rabbi Kibbitz!”

“What Doodle?”

Rabbi Kibbitz, a succah,” Doodle said. “The only succah remaining in Chelm!”

“You’re kidding,” said Reb Cantor.

But no, Doodle was not kidding. He led a large procession through the streets of Chelm, and at last they stopped at the half-demolished house of Reb Gold the cobbler.

“You see?” Doodle said, pointing.

“That’s the cobbler’s house,” Reb Cantor said. “The poor man couldn’t even afford to build a succah this year. The storm really took it apart.”

“No, no look!” Doodle said. “In the storm last night, two of the walls fell down, and the roof was blown away.  There’s nothing up top but that huge tree branch.”

“Yes, yes, I can see that.”

“So, according to the law,” Doodle said, proudly, “it’s not a house any more. It’s a succah! In fact, it’s the only one left in the village of Chelm!”


The judges immediately began conferring.

Soon Rabbi Kibbitz spoke. “This year, after careful consideration, we award the Succah prize to the Gold family.”

“What? That’s nonsense,” said Reb Cantor. “Why my succah was ten times bigger than this house, and ten times more beautiful. And it was a real succah, not something just thrown together by the wind...”

“Isaac, shush” Shoshanna Cantor said. “Listen to yourself. We had a succah, but we still have a house. They have only a succah.”

The merchant’s eyes opened and his heart melted. He reached into his coat and he gave the Gold family the purse filled with one hundred rubles.

Now, Reb Gold, poor as he might be was never one to accept charity, but winning a contest, that was something different. With tears running down his face, he thanked Reb Cantor, and shook the Rabbi’s hand.

That evening every one in the village of Chelm squeezed into Reb Gold’s contest-winning succah and ate at a delicious feast catered by Reb Cantor. The stars above had never shined so bright.


Copyright 2020 by Mark Binder, all rights reserved.

Visit for more information about Mark Binder's Village Life storytelling programs and concerts, and for info Izzy Abrahmson's Village Life series of books

If you want to read… Start with A Village Romance or The Village Twins. Then go for the Chanukah book, Winter Blessings or the Passover book, The Village Feasts. Available on Amazon, Audible and wherever books and audiobooks are sold. - Amazon's author page is here