College students build sukkah in honor of festival Weeklong observance of Jewish holiday will begin tomorrow

October 03, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The High Holy Day rigors of fasting and repentance are over. Now comes the time for celebration.

At sundown tomorrow, Jews begin the observance of Sukkot, a weeklong harvest festival. Over the past few days, observant Jews have been building sukkahs, outdoor huts made of wood or canvas that symbolize the tents used by the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Part of the fun is in building the sukkah, said a group of Towson University students who erected a sukkah yesterday on a grassy patch between the library and the Jewish Student Center.

"We used to do this in my family when I was a kid. When I got older, we stopped," said Alex Rubinstein, president of Towson's Jewish Student Association, who was directing the wrapping of canvas walls over metal poles, the laying of wooden slats on top and the unrolling of bamboo mats for a ceiling. "When I got back here, it was like a chance to relive my childhood."

According to a strict interpretation of Jewish law, a family should move into the sukkah during the festival. "It is tradition to eat and sleep there. Daily life should happen in the sukkah," said Ariane Aronhime, director of the Jewish Student Centers of Baltimore, which includes the campuses at the Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College.

But the practicalities of modern life prevail, and most people simply take their meals in the huts. Tradition says the stars and the sky should be visible through the roof, so the sukkah is usually covered with palm fronds, bamboo mats or the like.

"It's very nice," said Abby Opal, a senior biology major from Pikesville. "You see the stars and everything. It's a very pleasant atmosphere."

As is the custom, the students decorated the sukkah with fruit and multicolored paper garlands. Corn and pumpkins were on their way to provide an autumnal feel.

Also on hand were four varieties of plants, specified in the biblical book of Leviticus, that are used in prayers recited during the holidays: a palm branch, three myrtle branches, two willow branches and an etrog, a citron that resembles a large lemon.

Etrogs don't come cheap. They must be imported, and they must be as close to perfect as possible to be ritually valid. The Towson students ordered theirs through a local rabbi. "They went from $35 to $100 [each]," Aronhime said. "Ours was $55."

During the festival, students, faculty members and community members are welcome to take their meals in the sukkah. The Jewish Student Center has a kosher kitchen and usually serves meals daily. The students have invited faculty members for a dinner Thursday night in the sukkah.

And there will be snacks for anyone who might stop by. In Jewish tradition, taking a meal in the sukkah and saying a blessing over the food is considered the fulfillment of a mitzvah, a commandment of Jewish law.

"In a Jewish neighborhood, people will go from sukkah to sukkah, eat something and say a blessing," Aronhime said. "We call it 'sukkah hopping.' "

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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