To those of you who broke your necks, attempting to get a good look at it while you were on your way to your next class, it’s called a sukkah [soo-KAH]; a traditional, temporary structure built every year for the duration of the Jewish Festival of Sukkot [soo-COAT]. This 7-day holiday serves as a reminder of the biblical stories of the Children of Israel and their 40 years spent wandering the Sinai desert and sleeping in temporary shelters. The Sukkot Festival highlights the very real status of homelessness while simultaneously representing the agricultural significance of the harvest.
The sukkah was initiated this past week and sits most conspicuously on Healy Lawn along the pathway toward Lau. Standing alone, the sukkah is eye-catching, and not something one would typically expect to see at Georgetown, especially out on such a public place as the front lawn. There are small signs put up in tandem with the structure to increase awareness about the significance of the sukkah. Instead of lawn gnomes and pink flamingos, Georgetown’s Jewish Chaplaincy and the Jewish Student Association (JSA) partnered to select an architecturally modern structure with traditional value that is, in itself, a piece of art.
Imagine the view from inside– you can discover the Georgetown Community through the threads that make up the walls, and experience Georgetown from a different vantage point. After a busy day of running from home to class to internship and back, the sukkah is a place for students to stop and reflect. According to Sonia Okolie, a student intern for the Georgetown Jewish Chaplaincy, “I’m not Jewish, but I think it’s cool. Sitting inside the sukkah feels like you’re in a different world where you can get away from the madness that is Georgetown, even if it’s only for a little while”.
The Georgetown Jewish Chaplaincy has been in talks about having a new sukkah for a while. Sapir Yarden, Co-President of the JSA informed me that,“The past sukkah was a shaky structure that would be on display on either Harbin patio or the Leavey Esplanade. It was neither safe nor pleasant looking”. Members of the JSA wished for a new sukkah in a more prevalent location. Their requests were finally answered.
Georgetown’s 2013 sukkah is a completely one-of-a-kind, kosher (fit for use) version of the typical sukkah. The design for our new sukkah comes from the 2010 international design competition, ‘Sukkah City’, held in New York. 60 architectural firms produced their contemporary versions of sukkahs that fit the extensive list of traditional construction requirements. One such requirement states that the sukkah must be built beneath the open sky with a roof composed of raw, unfinished vegetable matter that provides shade by day and a view of the sky by night. A celebrated panel of architects, designers, and critics selected 12 finalists who would go on to construct their ideas and create a visionary village of sukkahs in Union Square Park. New Yorkers then chose their favorite to receive the honor as The People’s Choice Sukkah of New York City.
Rabbi Rachel Gartner decided to contact the winning firm and proposed that they ‘build a sukkah for the Pope’. She anticipated that this re-usable structure would embody Judaism on our Catholic campus that is already peppered with crucifixes, Virgin Mary’s, and banners that remind us of the Jesuit values every day. The very presence of the sukkah has augmented on-campus interfaith communication and dialogue to reflect the White House Interfaith Service Campus Challenge. In fact, Georgetown’s Imam Hendi, a Palestinian Muslim, decided to attend a Shabbat service with songs, and refreshments held in and around the sukkah. Ignoring the implications of the historical struggle between Israelis and Pakistanis, he spoke of unity and kinship, declaring in Hebrew, “We love you and we are going to be one big family”.
The sukkah is a beacon of acceptance built for you to explore. You can walk through it and around it, and fulfill the mitzvah (good deed) of dwelling in it. What the sukkah is not, is a museum exhibit that should only be appreciated from afar. When I walked past the sukkah in-between classes, I observed a family with small children interacting with the sukkah, and their faces showed expressions of delight and serenity in a space for understanding. The sukkah shows that the Jewish community has a place on campus. Onlookers do not appear critical, but rather intrigued. Acceptance of Judaism as both culture and religion has found a new dwelling at Georgetown. I fervently hope that after the sukkah is dismantled this fellowship will remain.
-Claytia Gonsalves, General Manager
NOTE: The duration of the Sukkot Festival this year is from sunset September 18, 2013 – nightfall September 25, 2013. After that the sukkah will be dismantled and stored away. Look out for the sukkah again next Fall!