“Everyone on the block knows I’m a handy guy,” said Billy Klein, 30. “For years, in the lead-up to Sukkot I used to receive calls from friends and neighbors asking for my help building their sukkahs.”
One year, inundated with the number of calls from neighbors flummoxed by the challenges of building a sukkah, Klein decided to recruit his good friend, 28-year-old Zuzz Rapp, a carpenter by trade, to help him out with all the requests for help. Rapp was delighted to assist, and together the pair built and fixed around a dozen sukkahs, mainly for Klein’s neighbors.
The following year, in 2014, the two of them founded the Sukkah Boys—a no-frills service that constructs and builds sukkahs in their hometown of Melbourne, Australia. With their team of eight to 10 contractors and humorous videos, poking fun at Jews for their lack of building skills, the Sukkah Boys now construct approximately 300 sukkahs each year. In addition to building sukkahs, they are also happy to install lights, doors, walls, and windows, put up schach, and even supply the Four Species used in Sukkot rituals.
“News like this spreads like wildfire,” said Rapp, “especially when people find out that they don’t have to build the sukkah themselves.”
These days, in addition to private customers, the Sukkah Boys are hired to build sukkahs for local synagogues and older people care homes around Melbourne.
“The 10 to 12 days leading up to Sukkot are frantically busy,” said Klein. “It’s a logistics nightmare. We have 300 jobs in a two-week period. The customers all want it done last minute. And the day after Sukkot, they all want it down.”
Rapp added: “To get everyone done before the holiday is extremely hard work. But we have never let a customer down.”
With the Sukkah Boys’ handiness and construction abilities well-known in their community, some customers have sometimes added in unusual, amusing, requests for help.
“One year, while we were installing a sukkah, someone asked us if they could hire us to trap and remove a possum in their roof,” said Rapp. “We said no.”
For the first few years of their operations, the Sukkah Boys were mainly building sukkahs, until Klein’s mom, Gilly, who runs a preschool, suggested that they add an educational component to their activities. So in 2017, they began offering an interactive workshop on building sukkahs to children at Jewish schools and kindergartens.
“We introduced a sukkah workshop to schools,” said Klein. “We went to 20 Jewish schools and kinders and presented our workshop to over 2,000 kids. We covered the safety of building tools and how to be safe in a sukkah.”
The workshops were a great success and many families decided to start celebrating the festival after their children attended the workshops.
“Many people who had never had a sukkah wanted us. They thought it would be nice for their family to have one and to celebrate with their kids,” said Klein.
While the Sukkah Boys only construct sukkahs in the suburbs around Melbourne, they have been able to help other smaller, and more remote Australian Jewish communities gain access to a sukkah.
“One year, my friend who lives in Newcastle [a regional area of Australia] needed a sukkah for his shul and community. We decided to send him one, and after that we partnered with Chabad of RARA,” which services Jews living in regional and remote communities of Australia, said Klein. “We said that we would love to donate a sukkah to every community they serve. Even if the community did not have a rabbi, we were happy to send it to a local community member so they could put it up for their friends.”
The idea was a resounding success, and the Sukkah Boys sent 30 sukkahs via a special courier to communities across Australia.
“We donated about 30 sukkahs to Chabad of RARA and we managed to have a Sukkah Boys sukkah in every single Australian state and capital city, as well as smaller communities like Alice Springs and Port Douglas,” said Klein.
Using their entrepreneurial flair, the Sukkah Boys continue to innovate and grow their business. In 2023, for the first time, they will be offering a tiny portable sukkah, which is particularly helpful for those who want to always have a sukkah travel with them wherever they go or for people living in apartments with tiny balconies or limited space.
“It’s actually a mini porta-loo sukkah without the toilet or roof, just the walls,” said Klein.
The best part of their work is definitely the community members they meet while building their sukkahs.
“We helped an older lady a few years ago put up a sukkah,” said Klein. “She lived by herself and was terminally ill with cancer, but she really wanted to put up a recyclable sukkah. We used tires and plastic bottles. It was probably one of our most meaningful jobs. She was so involved even though she was sick.”
Most of all, the Sukkah Boys want people to enjoy their sukkahs.
“It’s always about safety first. Because it’s temporary structures, you can never secure your sukkahs enough. Wind and rain. A sukkah is temporary,” said Klein. “Make sure you secure the walls, roof, and decorations. We’ve heard too many stories of things blowing away and too many stories of people falling off ladders. Make it safe, so you can enjoy the sukkah with your families.”
Nomi Kaltmann is Tablet magazine’s Australian correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @NomiKal.