Sukkot brings Jews together under 4 ‘huts’ around campus

By Amanda Craig/THE DAILY NORTHWESTERN
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Jeremy Meisel sat reading quietly in a 12-by-12-foot hut in front of Allison Hall on Tuesday afternoon. The hut was made of green tarp walls and a bamboo mat roof, and nine empty chairs surrounded a table as Meisel, a Weinberg senior, waited for a friend to join him for lunch.

Meisel and his friend would bring lunch back from the Allison cafeteria to eat in the hut, known as a sukkah. Meisel was celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot – the plural of sukkah – which began last Wednesday at sundown. During Sukkot, Jews are “supposed to live in the huts, but most people in the modern day just eat all their meals in them,” said Danielle Gershon, a Weinberg senior and president of Hillel.

The holiday officially lasts seven days. A two-day holiday extends the celebration; the eighth day is known as Shmini Atzeret and the ninth as Simchat Torah, or “Celebration of the Torah.”

Orthodox Jews also celebrate Sukkot by recognizing days of rest and worship from Wednesday at sundown through Friday, along with the Sabbath on Saturday. Meisel did not attend classes Thursday or Friday or use any electronics, and said he found the time away stressful. Gershon attended class but did not take notes, and said the break from computers and cell phones is “actually pleasantly restful. I feel a bit lost from the world, but it allows me to not worry about papers or anything, because it’s just not relevant.”

The sukkah represents the Jews’ willingness to leave Egypt and wander in the desert for forty years, living in huts and placing all of their trust in God, said Tannenbaum Chabad House Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein. The holiday occurs sometime between mid-September and mid-October, depending on the lunar calendar.

Four sukkot were erected on Northwestern’s campus this year: at Allison Hall, in the backyards of the Fiedler Hillel Center and the Chabad House, and at the corner of Sheridan Road and Garrett Place. The sukkah at Sheridan and Garrett was 36 by 36 feet, the largest sukkah ever constructed on campus.

“It arrived in 27 Fed Ex boxes and was made up of about 100 poles. It took seven hours to build last Tuesday and two and a half hours to tear down on Sunday,” Gershon said. The large space was used on Wednesday for a barbecue and trivia night, on Sunday for an activities fair and brunch, and on Friday during the Shabbat meal, which more than 115 people attended.

“That meal was the main reason we wanted the larger sukkah,” Gershon said. “We felt it was really important for everyone to be able to eat a meal together, to share that single experience.”

During morning and evening services the Four Species – a palm branch, citron fruit, myrtle branch and willow branch, each representing a different type of Jew – are brought together and shaken in every direction to demonstrate unity and God’s omnipresence.

“The holiday is about non-Jews as well,” Klein said. “During Sukkot, all sacrifices go to the non-Jewish community, representing our responsibility to mankind, which helps us increase in our joy.”

Because Sukkot is meant for everybody, its parties and celebrations “should really be taking place outdoors, in the streets,” Klein said. “Unfortunately, we live in a neighborhood that is supposed to be diverse but where there is very little tolerance.”

Klein said the celebrations used to be outside and spontaneous, but a few years ago, the police chief asked that they stay indoors.

Nonetheless, on Thursday night an indoor celebration of Simchat Torah will erupt within the walls of the Chabad House, if Klein has anything to do with it.

“It’s the biggest festive day of the year, a 24-hour period of singing and dancing,” Klein said. “For 21-year-olds and up, it’s our drinking holiday. It’s just a total, pure expression of joy.”

Reach Amanda Craig at a-craig@northwestern.edu.