A once-ubiquitous packing material that the manufacturer refused to take back was kept by the Orenbuch family of West Hempstead and assembled into a menorah like no other. “We used to drive past a home on 136th Street that had a sukkah made of red Coca-Cola crates. When we got married, we started collecting them from shuls after their kiddush,” said Rachel Orenbuch. “Our first home in Queens was a garden apartment, and that’s where we made our first sukkah.”
It is difficult to say which family came up with the concept of a sukkah made of plastic bottle crates. In 2004, The New York Times reported on it as one example of an outside-the-box sukkah design. “What can I say? I drink a lot of Coke,” Rabbi Berl Haskelevich of Crown Heights told the reporter. “They don’t get rotten like wood. It’s sturdy, and it looks beautiful. I get a lot of compliments.”
Rachel and Yissy Orenbuch do not drink Coke; they collect the crates solely for its architectural potential. “I never drink Coke, not even Diet Coke, neither does my husband or our children,” she said. As their family grew, the couple purchased an attached home in 2003 and contacted Coca-Cola about redeeming the crates. “The company refused to take them back and told us to leave it on the curb for the recycling truck, so we’ve kept them.”
Nearly two years ago, they relocated to West Hempstead where their corner house has a garage and driveway to accommodate hundreds of red packing crates. As their collection grew, so did the dimensions of the sukkah. “We did not take it down and instead had it transformed into a menorah,” she said.
To maintain its balance, the back of the menorah has a protrusion resembling the T-shaped kamatz, and its tips are thinner than its center. The top line of the menorah is made from black packing crates topped by lamps on sticks. “The red crates can be used as bricks because they have a split in the middle, unlike the black crates,” she said. At nearly six feet in height, the Orenbuch menorah is far short of the halachic maximum height, but tall enough to stand out on this quiet suburban block. “We have extra crates here that can be assembled into seats where we can serve refreshments for guests. We can also try to make a giant dreidel from them,” she said.
As the menorah was a byproduct of the Sukkos that preceded Chanukah, the Orenbuchs are planning a Purim item from the same building materials. Neither has a background in architecture; the wife is a special education teacher and the husband works in software testing. With an imagination and space to store the materials, this family found a novel way to publicize the miracle.
By Sergey Kadinsky