Sukkah on wheels: Chabad celebrates Sukkot through traveling structure
Although midterm season may prevent many Jewish students from attending recent holiday services and gatherings, Chabad on Campus found a way to bring festivities to them last week.
Since the first few days of Sukkot, an annual Jewish holiday that began the evening of Sunday, Oct. 13, and ended the evening of Sunday, Oct. 20, fell during fall break, Chabad co-director Rabbi Hershey Novack strove to increase accessibility of Sukkot festivities and devise an “opportunity to maximize outreach during the few days that we have.”
One of the most recognizable features of Sukkot, which commemorates the 40 years Jews spent wandering the desert after being freed from enslavement in Egypt, is the Sukkah, a temporary structure that many Jews eat, sleep and/or spend time in during the seven days of Sukkot. The Sukkah represents similar structures the Israelites had to travel with, and people customarily build their own Sukkahs, as the Torah mandates living in your Sukkah for seven days.
In addition to Chabad’s Sukkahs installed outside the Chabad house and in the Edison Family Courtyard, Novack reached out to sophomore Jonathan Mack about two weeks ago with the idea of constructing a mobile Sukkah that could travel around campus on the back of a bicycle.
Mack grew up building Sukkahs with his family on his grandparents’ terrace in New York City. When asked why he thought Novack asked him in particular to help organize the project, Mack said, “I think I’m one of the only college students who came to school with a set of power tools.”
Mack and Novack attached the Sukkah to the bike, which was rented to Chabad by Bear Bikes at no cost, using an attachable baby carrier purchased on Craig’s List. They had to carefully follow Jewish law in order to construct a Kosher Sukkah, adhering to minimum and maximum dimensions and finding the proper material for the “schach,” which is the covering of the structure. Needing a natural material that creates a temporary roof, they used bamboo.
“The whole point of the holiday is to commemorate the way that the Israelites traveled through the desert,” Mack said. “The Sukkah was originally a mobile device, so while we think of it today as maybe somewhat fixed, really the idea of having a mobile Sukkah is perfect, that’s the whole point. Think about how much faster they would have gotten through the desert if they had bikes.”
Although the Israelites may not have had bicycles as Mack joked, he and Novack discovered that the concept of a Sukkah on a bicycle is grounded in Jewish law, as the Mishnah, a text of Jewish oral traditions which was codified in 190 CE, includes explicit directions for building a Sukkah on a wagon.
“The idea that the Sukkah can be mobile and on a wagon is sort of not a new idea, this is just a new implication,” Novack said.
Novack spent the end of last week riding the Sukkah around campus, stopping at the South 40, Danforth University Center and other locations to allow students to spend some time sitting in it. Mack noted that bringing the mobile Sukkah to the Washington University community is an example of the many ways Chabad strives to engage students.
“[Chabad] tend(s) to do a really great job of…trying to make Jewish life and holidays accessible to students,” Mack said. “I think this is a pretty unique one, and a very unique way of making it accessible.”