Traditional Congregation erects ‘Sukkah City’


Imagine this situation….you’ve just been liberated from generations of slavery in Egypt and you’re now wandering in the desert without a place to call home. So you, your family and the other members of your tribe are forced to build temporary shelters, or sukkot, to house you while you rove the barren landscape. Many sukkot populate the unfamiliar land providing shelter for the homeless and creating a moving community. While this scenario might be difficult for many modern Jews to fully comprehend, Traditional Congregation made an attempt to recreate this setting when it built seven small sukkot on its grounds: Sukkah City — Habitats for Hospitality, Humility, and Chutzpah.

“We wanted to create an example of the community of people who wandered,” Naomi Fishman, executive vice president of the congregation and chair of Sukkah City, said. “Judaism teaches that there’s much we can learn from experience, not just what’s in books. We hope that the people who visit Sukkah City will learn quite a bit based on experiencing the City.”


This ambitious undertaking began just five weeks before the holiday when the congregation’s new rabbi, Seth Gordon, mentioned how in his former community in Long Island, New York the festival of Sukkot is a big celebration where people really rejoice. That statement got Fishman thinking “if we build it they will come.”

The Sunday after Yom Kippur over 30 people came to the synagogue to build seven 8’x8′ booths and one large sukkah. Each booth was given a name, representing a stop along the Israelites’ journey. The driveway that intersects Traditional’s grounds represented the Jordan River and the four booths to the west of the driveway were given names of cities from the wilderness (Kadesh Barnea, Etzion Geber, Rephidim, and Elim) and the three booths on the east were given names of places in the promised land (Jericho, Heshbon, and Ai). “We built seven because that’s an important number in the Jewish tradition,” Fishman said.

In order to complete the experience and to reinforce the theme of looking for a home, Fishman hung in each booth newspaper clippings of people who are looking for homes: illegal immigrants, victims of terrorism, Iraqi families trying to get into Syria, Darfurians. Visitors were encouraged to talk about their own experiences of looking for a home.

“Ultimately I want people to move from their personal stories to what’s happening in the world,” Fishman said.

The congregation served lunch in the sukkot Thursday, Friday and Saturday with all of the booths filled to capacity with enthusiastic and happy visitors. “This experience makes the holiday more precious and more meaningful,” congregant Leona Altman said. “I feel elevated.” To add to the enjoyment and meaning of the holiday, Fishman arranged for “special visitors” to make an appearance. Abraham and Sarah stopped by, in the persons of Barbara and Douglas Berson, to explain how they welcomed guests into their tent.

Many people felt this new way of celebrating the holiday corresponded with the new spirit of a new rabbi. “The rabbi’s a great teacher,” Alan Rosenberg, president of the congregation, said. “We have ruach, and people are taking initiative.” Marc Singer also credited Rabbi Gordon with invigorating the congregation to try new things. “This is a breath of fresh air for Traditional,” Singer said. “The new rabbi is trying new things. He’s very energetic. This is a great new beginning for a new rabbi.”

Gordon praises the work of the congregation in making Sukkah City come to fruition. “It just goes to show you what can happen when you tap into people’s creativity. I hope more people get involved next year and we can expand.”