Students and members of the AU community participated in Sukkot, the Jewish festival of the harvest by living in a temporary shelter and bonding together through events sponsored by AU Hillel.
In keeping with the traditions of Sukkot, where Jewish people are supposed to live in temporary huts, Hillel set up a sukkah, or hut with openings in the roof, on the main Quad. The sukkah will remain there until the middle of this week.
The sukkah is decorated with bamboo, fruit and other symbols of harvest time, said Jeremy Rovinsky, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences. The sukkah represents the concept that life is temporary, so people should use their time wisely, and reminds people that God brought the Jews out of slavery in Egypt and sheltered them, he said.
Rovinsky, who is involved with the Jewish Student Association, said that AU Hillel planned activities like “pizza in the sukkah,” where members of the AU community could come and learn about Sukkot while enjoying free food.
Other events held this past week were “sushi in the sukkah” and “hookah in the sukkah,” which were both open to members of the AU community, Rovinsky said. He said he and some of his friends were also planning to have a sleepover in the sukkah.
Hillary Blank, a sophomore in SPA, said that one part of Sukkot that she loves is that even though it’s a lesser-known holiday, it’s the most visible because of the sukkah on the Quad.
Blank said she participated in pizza in the sukkah this year. She said visibility is very important because the responsibility of educating the community about Jewish holidays falls to the Jewish students, Hillel and JSA.
“When there’s a giant hut in the middle of the Quad, there’s a great conversation starter already in place: ‘Hey, so what’s the deal with that hut in the middle of the Quad?’” she said.
Amy Levine, Program Director of AU Hillel, said that some other events held last weekend included a jazz brunch on Sunday and performances by the a cappella group Dime a Dozen. She also said that AU is a good place where students can learn more about Jewish customs and culture.
“Since we are in an interfaith center, a lot of these programs can happen,” Levine said. “At any other university, you might not see something like this.”
During Sukkot, Levine said, there is also an emphasis on “phikkun olam,” or “repairing the world” by giving of oneself financially or through community service. She said that later on this semester, students will be constructing “Houses in a Box,” which can be easily put together and shipped to places where people are in need of housing.
Rabbi Ken Cohen, Hillel Director and campus rabbi, said that social justice is a central component in Judaism, not just unique to Sukkot. He said that the push for social justice is derived from the notion that humans are partners in God’s creation.
Living in a temporary shelter as part of Sukkot can help sensitize students and the community to people affected by Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, Cohen said. In fact, it may be a better way to show empathy for fellow human beings than going down to New Orleans itself.
Levine said that AU Hillel has other events planned for this year. Next Sunday Hillel will be taking 45 students to see Matisyahu, a Jewish reggae artist who has appeared on shows like “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
On Nov. 4 the Jewish community will host “Shabbat Services and Dinner,” where non-Jewish students are encouraged to attend and learn about Judaism. The event was very popular last year, Levine said.
During winter break in December, Hillel has planned a “Birthright Trip,” where 20 to 30 students will travel to Israel. Another trip, to take place in January, will take students to a dwindling community of Jews in India.
Many of the community’s members have moved away to places like Israel or the United States, but Levine hopes the trip will be a good opportunity for students to experience living in a community before it completely disappears. One student, who is an Indian Jew, will meet members of her family for the first time, Levine said.
The purpose of Hillel is that it’s an “umbrella organization” that includes all members of the Jewish community, whether conservative, reform or orthodox, said Cohen. Rovinsky said that Hillel organizes events for other Jewish student groups on campus, and its board members, which include older members of the Jewish community and the presidents of the Jewish Student Association and AU Students for Israel, serves as advisor to these groups.
“However you want to be Jewish, that’s why we’re here,” Levine said. “To help you find that niche.”