A Torontonian who’s now living in Tel Aviv has created what he calls “Airbnb for sukkahs.”
Aaron Taylor, the creator of Open Sukkah, graduated from Or Chaim high school in Toronto nine years ago, before making the move to the Holy Land. Like many members of his graduating class, he went to study at a Yeshiva, but a year into it, he decided to join the IDF. After finishing his service, Taylor was all set to return to Toronto and attend U of T. But something stopped him.
“I looked at the class list and I didn’t really see many Jews on the list. I decided that I just needed a Jewish place, somewhere where I felt more home,” he said.
Now, Taylor is making it his mission to help other people feel at home – at least during Sukkot.
Taylor, 27, conceived of Open Sukkah two years ago. He lived in an apartment in Tel Aviv, where most buildings have covered balconies, rather than the tiered buildings in Jerusalem that feature balconies are open to the sky. Taylor was relying on neighbours to host him in their sukkot, so he could observe the mitzvah of the holiday.
“So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a map where I can see sukkahs that are in maybe a shul or community centres, or even families who have opened up their sukkahs for people to just come eat or sleep,” he said.
It was too late for Taylor to follow through on his vision at the time, since Sukkot had already started. So he set a reminder for 11 months in the future, which would give him enough time to work on, and implement, his idea before the next Sukkot.
Taylor said the original version of Open Sukkah was very rudimentary. He had set the reminder for about a week before the start of the holiday and was only able to work on it for three or four days. His coding skills at the time were fairly basic, as he had just completed a coding bootcamp.
“It wasn’t custom at all, it was a terribly designed website and the map was really hard to use,” he said of the old site. People wanting to mark the location of a sukkah would be taken off the website to Google Maps. Taylor described the process as causing “friction.”
For this year’s version, Taylor created a custom interface using his more advanced web design skills. Users zoom in to the location where they want to mark their sukkah, then simply click a button. A box comes up prompting them to fill in the sukkah’s name and details, and once they click submit, it’s part of the map. For people searching for sukkot to use, they only have to go to the website to see every one that’s nearby, with each being represented by a blue marker.
Taylor said that last year, around 20 synagogues listed their sukkot: a few each in Canada and the United States, one in Hungary, one in Lithuania and the rest in Israel. At the time of this writing, less than a day after Taylor put up the new version, there are seven sukkot on the website: two in the United States, three in Israel and one each in South Africa and the Czech Republic.
Taylor said that he has high hopes for his site.
“Everyone hopes to go viral these days, right? So to go viral with hundreds of thousands of sukkahs would kind of be beyond my wildest dreams for this,” he said. But beyond just the numbers, “I think getting some stories of people who connected through the sukkah would be really, really interesting … more of the personal side than the quantitative side.”