Fairfield University community gathers in sukkah

Image: SukkotThe sukkah recently built on the Fairfield University campus brought people together from all walks of campus life.

It stood in memory of the Jews who lived in these types of temporary huts as they wandered the wilderness for 40 years in search of a permanent home. Visitors included the campus Muslim and Protestant chaplains, Jesuit priests, faculty from a variety of departments and schools, staff, students, university administrators, and custodial staff.

The University's Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and KADIMA - Fairfield's undergraduate Jewish student organization - constructed the hut to mark the Jewish fall festival of Sukkot. It served as a gathering place to share a meal, hold class or simply to reflect.

"There are so many similarities between the Sukkot, with its focus on giving thanks and recognizing our responsibilities to live lives in the service of others less fortunate, and our Jesuit Catholic heritage, centered in justice, which calls us to be men and women with and for others," said Dr. Thomas Pellegrino, vice president of student affairs and university coordinator for Mission and Identity, who joined some students, faculty and staff in the the sukkah one afternoon. "It is a wonderful and accurate representation of the type of community spirit that lives deep in the heart of our campus."

Image: SukkotSukkot is the holiday on which Thanksgiving is based, which begins five days after Yom Kippur, according to Dr. Ellen Umansky, director of the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies. It's traditionally celebrated by eating in and for some religious Jews even sleeping in a sukkah. In the Fairfield hut, the dining table was adorned with pumpkins and gourds, its canvas walls stringed with faux fruit and produce, and its roof with bamboo shoots and palms. The decorations were a nod to the Lulav (palm, willow, and myrtle) and Etrog (a citrus fruit) harvested in the fall in Israel.

"Historically, the festival enables Jews to remember and relive their biblical ancestors' wandering after leaving Egypt," said Elaine Bowman, program manager of the Bennett Center, which hosted a series of luncheons in the sukkah.

Dr. Robert Epstein, associate professor of English, was one visitor. "I'm always grateful to Ellen and Elaine for arranging for the sukkah, as I would be unlikely to observe the holiday if I weren't able to join them for lunch right outside my office," he said. "It's an especially pleasant holiday, with its emphasis on communal gathering in the fall air."

Ultimately, the hope of celebrating the holiday is that people rejoice and at the same time strengthen their resolve in honor of the Jews who struggled for so many years.

"It is a time to consider the fragility of life and to be grateful for what you have," said Dr. Umansky.  

It should also be a reminder that today there are thousands of Americans and millions of people who have insufficient food and housing. Dr. Umansky noted, "We hope the sukkah causes people to remember our responsibility to help the poor and the hungry, especially as we move into the winter and holiday season."

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on September 30, 2013

Vol. 46, No. 61

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