Sukkot at Smith
A Report by Michelle Anderer '15
The holiday Sukkot, which in Hebrew means "Feast of Booths and Tabernacles," is traditionally celebrated by the Jewish community on the 15th day of the month or Tishrei (in late September or late October). The holiday lasts for seven days, with the first day being sabbath (when work is forbidden), followed by Chol Homoed and then Shemini Atzeret. The sukkah itself is traditionally a walled structure covered with leafy tree overgrowth or leaves and is intended to represent a symbolic wilderness shelter that the Israelites inhabited after they were freed from slavery in Egypt.
Entering the sukkah, one is greeted with an abundance of freshly made baked goods and hearty apple cider, keeping the traditional spirit of holiday festivity alive. Most participants of Sukkot will eat their meals though out the week inside the sukkah itself.
This evening's gathering began with a discussion of the programs hosted by Hillel and Jewish Studies, and the overwhelming student affirmation for their new adviser. Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser said, "Having an adviser in the Jewish community is important because they have a strong perspective on real world experiences, and it would be great for students to be able to go to them with their own personal questions."
As the meeting went on, the traditional importance of the sukkah within the holiday became very apparent. Students emphasized the importance of community that they experience inside the sukkah. Most of them are built in communal areas to incorporate large gatherings and events.
Students got down the the nuts and bolts of what a structure needed to qualify as an authentic sukkah: a minimum of 3 walls, at least partially open to the sky, mainly built out of any natural material, and erected and deconstructed each year. Some students talked about the issues that had recently come up concerning their own family sukkahs. One student lamented the loss of a traditional wooden structure that her relative had given up several years back, choosing to build theirs out of PVC piping to increase durability so that they could leave it up year round. Others, like Kayla Blum '15, emphasized her disappointment in not being able to use nails at the request of her parents when constructing her own family sukkah. Despite these setbacks, the students agreed that a sukkah mainly represented celebration, joy, and positive wishes for the months and years ahead.
There was also a lively debate about the importance and function of the lulav (a date tree's branch that grows vertically from the tree's top). Everyone agreed that it was significant in the ceremony and that shaking it was involved, but then the details got a little fuzzy. The group turned toward their adviser, Rhonda, for further input. She confirmed that it is used to recite blessings over the Four Kinds: a citron, a palm branch, three myrtle twigs, and two willow branches. During the ceremony, the citron "etrog" is held in one hand and the branches in the other, and that this bundle is called a lulav. Facing east, one recites the blessing "Baruch atah Adonai Eloheynu Melech Ha Holam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu al netilat lulav" (Blessed are You, Adonai, Ruler of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment). Facing the six directions of east, south, west, north, above and below, one waves the lulav up and down.
After several hours of feasting, heated discussion, ceremony and prayer, the evening drew to a satisfying close.