A small group of seven students, staff and faculty gathered at the Ludwick Center lawn to build a sukkah in celebration of the beginning of the Jewish holiday Sukkot.
Sukkot commemorates the 40 years that the Jews spent in the desert to escape Egypt and the persecution of Jews on their path to Israel, the promised land. So every night they built make-shift structures so that they could sleep under the stars and sky and the sukkah represent those makeshift shelters. The sukkah is the shelter built during the start of the holiday which lasts seven days and eight nights.
“Because we are building this in front of the Ludwick Center, it makes me very very happy because this center is focused on interfaith on culture and community, that’s what the whole center is about, and this sukkah represents the coming together to build interfaith,” said Devorah Lieberman, president of University of La Verne. “It’s about understanding each other’s culture and being a community together. Building this in front of the iconic Ludwick center to me represents the University of La Verne and who we are.”
The sukkah displayed at the University was a small structure with three walls and a diaphanous roof. Light would filter through in warm tones unlike the harsh, bright sun-light one was exposed to outside midday. Though it did not have walls, it did have plywood that constructed the frame of the shelter with a fabric hanging over it, to create a faux wall.
During the building process there were some trials and errors of the plywood positioning. However, the community present laughed it off and collaborated to eventually fix it, creating a sturdy structure to decorate as well as a bonding experience. Personal stories and interpretations about the holiday were shared throughout the process.
“The very first time we built this, it was built by students that were mostly not Jewish,” said Zandra Wagoner, University chaplain. “And actually the most beautiful thing about this is that at the time we had a really really strong student association and it was the Muslim students who built the sukkah mostly. It was a beautiful moment of interfaith and inter-cultural support for one another.”
Kira Degelsmith, president of Hillel, the Jewish organization on campus, said that many objects that were a part of the tradition had deep meaning like the fruits representing symbolizing different aspects of the human experience like thought and speech.
“I am not Jewish,” said Xareny Rodriguez, junior criminology major. “I don’t know much about the building but it gives me a chance to learn about it and be part of the process.”
It is traditional to hang plants like etrog, lulav, pumpkins and what most people would associate with a thanksgiving cornucopia like corn, squash, and gourds. The University sukkah however had a few pumpkins on display in a table that was at the center of the structure surrounded by chairs available to the public. Autumn-themed streamers hung in the perimeter of the interior of the sukkah.
“One of the things that our University represents is inclusivity and one thing about the lulav and the entrog is …that like one has a smell, one does not have a smell,” said Jake Huberman, visiting professor of film and television. “The combination of plants that have a smell or a taste or none at all represents everyone, and you tie it all together.”
The first student sukkah was built in 2011 and arose from a conversation Wagoner and Lieberman had about possibly creating this event to mark the beginning of Sukkot and has since become an annual tradition.
“I mean this structure… is one of the only connections that we have in the Bible you can fully immerse yourself in, you put your full body inside it,” said Huberman.
Liliana Castañeda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.