Students celebrate a socially distant Sukkot

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This traveling Sukkah was brought to students on the back of a pickup U-Haul truck. Photo by Rabbi Eli Backman.

By: Sarah Dilworth
@worthsomedills
For Mitzpeh

Students and campus groups at this university found inventive ways to continue celebratory traditions despite the limits on in-person campus events.

Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the protection God provided for Jews in the desert when they left Egypt. Part of the celebration for this holiday includes gathering under a Sukkah, or outdoor shelter, to share a meal, spend time together and sometimes, even sleep there.

While many students went home to celebrate with their families, some took to places on campus to gather in small groups and share dinner. Ruach, the reform student group at this university’s Hillel, held a “Homework in the Sukkah” event on Monday.

A handful of students attended the event, and everyone was wearing masks while social distancing in a big Sukkah outside, according to Ruach’s Facebook page. Other students in the group attended dinners at Chabad where there were large tables set up with ample space between them for the safety of students.

“It was fun to get out and celebrate while eating outdoors,” said junior accounting and finance double major Eric Levy who ate at Chabad with his girlfriend. “It was the first real event where students were welcomed in-person and it’s probably the best holiday to celebrate on campus during the pandemic because it’s outside.”

Chabad also accommodated students who were not able to attend because they were in quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus or being potentially exposed. The Backman family, who run Chabad on this campus, blew a shofar outside of Denton Hall, the Hartwick Towers, Terrapin Row and the Leonardtown apartments.

“We’re doing the best that we can to help students however they need it,” said Rabbi Eli Backman. “We’ve been delivering meals to those in isolation and offering them a bowl of hot chicken soup.”

Students were also able to take meals to go so they could celebrate on their own if they didn’t feel comfortable being in a public space. In addition to helping to facilitate two other Sukkahs to be built on campus, Chabad created a Sukkah on wheels by building a shelter on the back of a pickup truck.

Rabbi Backman drove the truck around different areas of the College Park community, and students were invited to go inside the Sukkah to shake a lulav (palm branch) along with an etrog (citron fruit), three hadassim (myrtle branches) and two aravot (willow branches). These four items are traditionally brought together to represent the four different types of individuals that comprise the Jewish community and emphasize unity. 

 

Two of many students that celebrated Sukkot on campus despite coronavirus’ limitations. Photo by Rabbi Backman.

Members of Chabad were not the only ones who showed their creative side this year. With limited space due to social distancing guidelines, many students also built their own Sukkahs around campus including senior and biology major Eitan Hoffman.

“Me and my roommates took a Sukkah kit from Chabad and we made a Sukkah outside of Terrapin Row for people in the area to celebrate in,” said Hoffman. “When we weren’t in the Sukkah we saw a few people stop by and eat meals in there.”

The celebration of Sukkot will continued through Saturday night and culminated with Sunday’s celebration of Simchat Torah.