Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Israel Museum
The Deller sukkah.

Sukkos is definitely a “hands-on” Yom Tov. First, there is actual building of the sukkah itself, whether a plastic tent, a fiberglass hut on the porch of a high-rise building, or a humble wooden shed on the sidewalk of an old neighborhood. Then there are the decorations. Decorating the sukkah with their handmade artwork is an exciting time for children, providing an opportunity for their creativity to shine.

On the top shelf of our linen closet is our “sukkah box,” containing all the pretty decorations made over the years by our children’s small hands. My favorite picture is of three dancing chassidim, gold paper figures glued to a black velvet background. Despite their worn-out condition, the long paper chains and other decorations are too precious to be discarded, even though supplemented now by endearing works of art produced by our grandchildren.


Why do we spend time adorning our sukkah? Moshe Rabbeinu proclaimed, “This is my G-d, I will glorify Him.” Chazal explain in the Talmud that this means we should perform all the mitzvos in a fine, dignified manner. Therefore, we should have a lovely sukkah, as well as a beautiful esrog to celebrate Sukkos. Some people have the custom of hanging up the sheva minim, the fruits of the Holy Land, which are also considered symbolic of the harvest occurring at this time of year.

My mother, a”h, used to make decorative birds out of eggshells for our sukkah which I discovered many years later was based an ancient minhag. This practice is symbolic of the prophecy of the navi Yeshayahu who said, “As birds hovering, so will Hashem protect Jerusalem.” In addition, the egg is a potential source of life. As the bird emerges from its egg, we hope for the future deliverance of the Jewish people to become reality.

A few years ago, on Chol Hamoed Sukkos, I discovered in the Israel Museum a most unusual sukkah – a real work of art with a fascinating history. The treasured heirloom of the Deller family, this sukkah originated in the small town of Fischach, near Augsburg in southern Germany, where Jewish families had resided since the 17th century.

In approximately 5586 (1826), a prosperous merchant, Jacob Deller, and his wife, Esther, commissioned a local artist to paint the walls of their sukkah. As Sukkos in Germany was usually a chilly time, the sukkah walls were made of very thick wood. Aware of the mitzvah to beautify one’s sukkah, the Deller family chose to decorate theirs with colorful, significant paintings.

The central wall, which served as the mizrach (eastern) wall, features a painting of Jerusalem, with the Kosel at its center, copied from a lithograph by well-known 19th century artist named Yehosef Schwartz. Painted within small frames in the background of the central and right-hand walls are scenes of the five major Jewish holidays, copied from engravings in an illuminated machzor. These scenes depict Akeidas Yitzchak (Rosh Hashanah), the kohen gadol offering a korban (Yom Kippur), Jews circling the bimah with Torah scrolls (Sukkos), the Korban Pesach (Pesach), and Moshe Rabbeinu receiving the Torah on Har Sinai (Shavuos).

The other walls of the sukkah contain folk art-style paintings of the town of Fischach and its residents. One depicts Esther Deller standing outside the family’s store. Another wall has a hunting scene of two well-dressed men gazing up at birds in the sky, possibly one man the local baron, patron of the local Jews, and the other his hunter. The affluent Deller family maintained their respected position in the Fischach community for several more decades. Avraham Deller, the grandson of Jacob and Esther, continued to erect the sukkah in the courtyard of his home every year.

When Judaica collector Dr. Heinrich Feuchtwanger heard about this unusual sukkah, he immediately felt a very strong connection to it. When the threat of war increased during the 1930s in Germany, he attempted to persuade the Deller family to donate their sukkah to a museum in Jerusalem. However, as they were very reluctant to part with it, Dr. Feuchtwanger turned to his close relatives, the Fraenkel family, asking for their assistance. They were all members and descendants of the founders of the small Orthodox community of Ohel Jacob in the city of Munich, and Bertha Fraenkel Ehrentreu was the Rabbi’s daughter. In 1937, the Fraenkels, sensing the danger in Germany, were preparing to leave for Eretz Yisrael. Dr. Feuchtwanger asked Mrs. Fraenkel to help obtain the Dellers’ permission to transport the precious sukkah with them to Jerusalem.

After much negotiation, the Deller family finally agreed, and Mrs. Fraenkel arranged the transfer of the sukkah from Fischach to Munich, the first step on its long journey. At that time, Jews were not permitted to take much money out of Germany. Instead, they would purchase many items of clothing, household utensils, appliances, and furniture before leaving. The Nazis kept a close eye on these large shipments to ensure no artwork, which they considered part of the German heritage, was included. The wooden panels of the Deller sukkah were numbered and cleverly hidden inside a large shipping container marked “lumber.” Viewed from the top of the container, the sukkah walls looked like ordinary panels of wood.

However, a curious Nazi clerk asked Mrs. Fraenkel, “Why are you taking along so much wood?” Thinking quickly, the astute lady came up with the perfect answer.

“Since we are going to a desert land, we will need to build a wooden cabin to live in,” she replied. Fortunately, her logical explanation satisfied the suspicious German clerk who did not investigate further. The container was sealed and sent on its way to Eretz Yisrael.

After its safe arrival in Jerusalem, the smuggled sukkah was reassembled and dedicated in memory of Avraham Deller to the Bezalel Museum, where it remained for almost three decades until its closure. The sukkah was then relocated in 1969 to its current home in the Israel Museum.

Like their sukkah, most of the remaining members of the Deller family managed to flee from the approaching Holocaust in 1937, though not to Eretz Yisrael. They emigrated to Ecuador, in South America, where they eventually established successful new lives. Eighty-five years later, members of the current Deller generation still feel an attachment to their heirloom sukkah. Its restoration was made possible by Alberto Deller and Frida Klein-Deller of Ecuador in memory of their son Pierre and in honor of their seven grandchildren.

This story is also cherished by the members of the Fraenkel family, and even the fifth generation feels a connection to this special sukkah. Several of them hang a picture of the original Deller sukkah in their own sukkahs each year.

Visitors to the Israel Museum from all over the world can visit this unusual sukkah, now almost two centuries old, whose paintings of Jerusalem reflect the significance of its eternal home.

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