Hillel Builds Sukkah Despite School Restrictions, State Laws

Lorah Steichen

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Photo by Marra Clay

If you walked past the Amphitheatre last week, you might have been perplexed by the roofless tent set up there. Members from Hillel-Shalom, the Jewish student organization on campus, set up the structure, called a sukkah, on Sunday, Sept. 22, in celebration of the holiday of Sukkot.

Sukkot, a weeklong holiday which takes place five days after Yom Kippur each year, not only celebrates the fall harvest season, but also commemorates the time that the Israelites traveled through the desert following their exodus from Egypt. The Israelites dwelled in temporary shelters because they were always on the move. This is observed during the holiday by constructing, decorating and dwelling in a sukkah, which is the Hebrew word for “hut” and singular of Sukkot.

“The whole idea of Sukkot is that it is a temporary dwelling home that is supposed to remind you of what it was like to live in the desert, since the Israelites lived in the desert for 40 years,” said sophomore Alex Ayal.

A sukkah is traditionally constructed with at least three sides and an open roof adorned with branches or anything that grows out of the ground. The idea is that the roof will provide some degree of shelter yet still allows a view of the stars.

Because the holiday comes during such a busy time of year for students, it has been several years since the club has celebrated with a sukkah on campus.

Freshman Eva Geisse adds to the Sukkah

Photo by Marra Clay

“Hillel-Shalom has participated in Sukkot in the past, but it was before I came to Whitman,” said senior Hillel-Shalom president Janae Edelson in an email. “We’ve tried to put up a sukkah in the past, but there hasn’t been a lot of interest.”

Though there hasn’t been the energy and interest to celebrate Sukkot in recent years, first-year Lauren Rekhelman offered to spearhead the project this fall.

“In addition to our regularly sponsored programs, if students are motivated and interested in special topics or activities, we will support them in organizing a specific event,” said Hillel-Shalom advisor Sharon Kaufman-Osborn.

Although Rekhelman received much support for the undertaking, she encountered some logistical obstacles along the way.

“[Members in the Activities Office] were like, ‘well you know the Washington State building codes don’t let you build a structure that has walls, any walls at all,'” said Rekhelman. “I mean, that was a little bit like, okay well a sukkah is supposed to have walls, so what are we supposed to do? Is there a law against building sukkahs?”

In the past, Hillel-Shalom has constructed a sukkah with wooden columns. This year, however, the club would not be able to build such a structure without acquiring a building permit. Although this was surprising to club members at first, the limitation ended up suiting their needs in the long run.

Hillel

Photo by Marra Clay

“We decided we wanted to get something that was going to serve us year after year, so instead of buying wooden beams and lattice and actually building a sukkah, we bought a canopy tent and cut the ceiling out and then put branches on top and rolled up one of the sides. So it’s three sides with one open side,” said Rekhelman.

Students from Hillel-Shalom set up and decorated the sukkah with autumn decorations on Sept. 22. The sukkah remained in the Amphitheatre until Friday Sept. 27. Although rain inhibited use of the sukkah on a regular basis while it was set up, students did get the opportunity to share meals in the structure when weather permitted. The hope is that the sukkah will continue to be used in years to come.

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