Jewish students celebrate Sukkot

Media Credit: Carol Matteucci

Media Credit: Carol Matteucci

At Illini Tower, 409 E. Chalmers St., Tuesday, a rabbi stands by his red pickup truck holding some branches and a citrus fruit. On the bed of the truck, the rabbi has a makeshift Sukkah - a hut with three plywood walls and a bamboo mat on top. He calls the truck the "Sukkah mobile."

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, director of the Chabad Jewish Center at the University, drives around the campus each year during the Jewish holiday Sukkot in order to give people a chance to shake the lulov - a stick made of date, myrtle and willow branches - and an etrog, a citrus fruit, in the Sukkah. He said the Sukkah mobile gives college students a chance to participate in the holiday when they are away from home.

Throughout the day, many students stopped by the Sukkah mobile and repeated the blessing after Tiechtel.

Sitting on the back of the pickup, two Jewish students share their first memories of the holiday.

Etay Luz, president of the Chabad Student Association, spent the first nine years of his life in Israel. His first memory of Sukkot was when his father would set up a Sukkah on the large balcony of their sixth floor apartment.

"I was so afraid he was going to die," said Luz, a senior in engineering.

His family invited people over and had snacks in the Sukkah, including the traditional snack of apples dipped in honey.

"We slept in (the Sukkah)," Luz said. "It was really hot."

Eve Mangurten, sophomore in LAS, remembers decorating her family's Sukkah with little pumpkins and gourds. Mangurten and her sister made a sign that read "Happy Sukkot."

"We made it all artistic," Mangurten said.

Mangurten said she enjoys hanging out with her friends during Sukkot.

"I think it's fun," Mangurten said. "I enjoy being in nature."

Luz said he is more interested in the cultural aspect because "everyone has different reasons" to celebrate the holiday.

As Mangurten and Luz were chatting in the Sukkah mobile, three more students came up to the truck.

Adina Rubin, freshman in LAS, said she is glad Chabad came to her with the Sukkah.

"Thank God for organizations like Chabad," said Aaron Rosman, junior in LAS. "They make it easy to celebrate."

Sukkot - Hebrew for 'Feast of the Tabernacles' - is celebrated for eight days each fall. Jewish people make Sukkahs, or temporary shelters, in which they eat and celebrate during the holiday. The feast, which started Sept. 30, ends today.

The feast originated when the Jews were traveling in the Sinai desert for 40 years after the exodus from Egypt, before they entered the land of Israel. This journey is accounted in the Torah and in Leviticus 23:39-43 of the Bible. According to the passage, God commanded the people to build a Sukkah.

Tiechtel said when the Israelites were in the desert, God created a tabernacle of clouds all around the people to protect them. By living in the Sukkah for eight days each year, they celebrate this miracle. At that time, they did not leave the Sukkah for eight days and ate every meal in it.

"They were living in the elements," Tiechtel said. "They remembered the miracle that God is always with us."

The Sukkah must have a roof made of natural materials that do not completely cover the top of the shelter, as that is the only thing separating them from God and the sky.

Tiechtel said that not everyone builds Sukkahs these days, but in bigger cities like Chicago, hundreds of people make them near their residences. Even though the holiday lasts for eight days, there are only two days at the end and the beginning where the Jewish students do not go to class.

The lulov symbolizes every different type of person - some only learn, some only work, some do both and some do neither. Shaking the lulov in six directions emphasizes the unity of all four types of people.

"We all work together," Tiechtel said.

Tiechtel said people are incomplete without each other.

"We make it fun, we make it different," Tiechtel said. "People hop on the Sukkah, shake for 10 seconds and go."

Tiechtel said the purpose of Chabad is to make Judaism fun.

"It's all in the attitude," Tiechtel said.

Chabad Student Center, 614 W. California Ave., Urbana, is in its second year of existence.

"We grew beyond our wildest expectations," Tiechtel said. "We are growing out of our current location."

On Sunday, Chabad set up a Sukkah at Allen Hall, where they made pizza in the hut - a play off of Pizza Hut.

Thursday at 8 p.m., Chabad will celebrate the end of the Sukkot and the Annual Simchat Torah Celebration. At midnight, anyone is invited to dance with the Torah on the Midnight Crawl.

Hillel Foundation also has a Sukkah on the Quad from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They served peanut bamba, pita with hummus and chips and played Israeli music. Hillel set up the Sukkah on Monday and will have it through today.

Hillel is working in promotion and awareness of the holiday, said Aliza Goodman, a Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow.

"People don't realize it's a holiday," Goodman said.

Svetlana Zavin, junior in LAS, talked with her friends near Hillel's booth.

"It's a throwback to the past, connecting us to our history," said Zavin, junior in LAS. "I was not religious growing up, but I got religious when I came to college."

David Weiss, freshman in engineering, said he has been celebrating Sukkot his whole life.

"Religion helps identify who you are," Weiss said. "Whenever I celebrated Sukkot, it was with extended, extended, extended family. It's a really fun time."