The JT stopped by community events as well as one family’s sukkah during the course of the holiday. Here’s how some in Baltimore celebrated Sukkot.
Sukkot and Beer
Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah stopped by Union Craft Brewing on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 20. Visitors crowded around the sukkah that had been on tour around the Baltimore area throughout Sukkot, jutting out from the bed of a pickup truck.
“Union has been an integral part of all of this,” said Charm City Tribe director Rabbi Jessy Gross, noting that the seasonal etrog beer on tap was, like the mobile sukkah itself, a means of “creating an experience on a cultural level” that would allow for a more accessible connection to Judaism for the otherwise uninitiated.
Gross told the JT that reaching out to the community with the mobile sukkah and specialty beer is “important because only 11 percent of people not Orthodox between ages 18 and 34 say it’s important to belong to a Jewish institution, and so that leaves 89 percent of people left to connect with.”
Referring to her unique methods as “low barrier, high content,” Gross hopes folks will come for “the party” and stay for “the content.” They’ll end up asking questions — “What is etrog? What is a sukkah, anyway?” — that will turn a curious young person into someone who is suddenly learning more about and gaining more access to Judaism.
As a close friend of Gross, Union co-owner Adam Benesch said it was an “obvious” choice to support what she was doing by having a larger event at which the mobile sukkah could rest for a family-friendly evening in the brewery’s parking lot, where children played games, face painting was prominent and where the Green Bowl Food Truck was present for purchase of healthy fast-casual food along with a reading of “Hophead Harry Goes to the Brewery,” which — believe it or not — is a children’s book about making beer.
“We had an opportunity here to reach out to the community,” Benesch said. “It’s a mobile sukkah. So, I mean … come on.”
— Mathew Klickstein
A Multigenerational Sukkah
While Sukkot gives families an opportunity each year to celebrate the season outdoors, the Hefter family has taken tradition one step further, passing on panels and decorations in their sukkah from generation to generation.
The family’s temporary holiday hut originated more than 40 years ago with Ruth and Sy Hefter. It has since lived in three states, survived two major hurricanes and now resides in Baltimore.
Wendy Hefter and her family integrated her husband David’s parent’s sukkah into their own when they decided to stop putting it up following a significant flood in 2012. All of the current Hefter sukkah’s white panels were from the original, while the blue panels were added to the sukkah three years ago so that it would fit the new frame.
“Every year we add something new,” said Wendy. “This year, we actually harvested our own bamboo for the roof.” Additionally, new paintings are added to the panels yearly.
Painting the panels of the sukkah is another family tradition. Sy originally painted some of the panels. Another of David Hefter’s siblings, Jodie Shoshana, who lives on a kibbutz, paints on her panels each year. Now, Amy Hefter is continuing the tradition.
Last year was her first painting — she painted the minions from the movie “Despicable Me” on a panel because her father loves them. This year, she decided to illustrate a panel with ushpizin in the same styling that her grandfather used for the letters on the door of the sukkah.
Wendy explained, “Every night in the sukkah, you’re supposed to invite a guest in, one for each of the fathers: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aaron, Yosef and David.
“I wanted [the panel] to make sense for the holiday and for the theme. I hope that painting on the canvas means that it will be around for a long time. In the future, I intend on having a sukkah I can paint and decorate with my kids. It is wonderful that we took the sukkah that had been in my grandparents family for nearly generations and gave it a new home, where they can still spend time in it.”
Other décor have been passed down through the family as well. Wendy pointed out a poster in the corner: “That’s from 1973 — during the Yom Kippur war; that was the famous poster that came out and my parents passed it on to me.”
Even more interesting is the family collection of etrogim. “It is the only fruit that doesn’t spoil when it gets old,” Wendy said. “It never rots. My husband and I have been collecting etrogim for nearly 31 years. They don’t spoil; they just shrink and get harder. My father-in-law used to put holes in them with a nail and would put cloves in there. As it shrinks, they get in there and you can use it for bisamim when you have Havdalah.”
— Daniel Nozick
Sukkot with a Purpose
A number of Jewish community members and officials assembled in the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s sukkah on Oct. 20 as part of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s “High Holidays with a Purpose” initiative.
The participants were there to make a “Soupkot” kit to donate to low-income families and families transitioning out of homeless shelters in an effort to ensure for them a hot and healthy meal this holiday season.
Abigail Malis, senior associate of community partnerships at the JVC, said the organization saw Sukkot as an opportune time to further its mission of giving back to those less fortunate in underserved communities.
“Well, think about how we operated back in biblical times and ancient times when all of our ancestors were farmers. They had to support each other and were responsible for supporting other members of the Jewish people,” Malis said.
Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior “director of Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC, partnered with the JVC to turn the idea into a reality and raise people’s consciousness of why Jews celebrate Sukkot.
“I thought this would be a good thing that would bring people into the sukkah and would also be thematically attune with what we think about during Sukkot,” said Gross, founding director of Charm City Tribe.
The curiosity and buzz generated during the hour that dozens of people made their way around the sukkah was evident from the organizers.
Alexandra Ade, community outreach and volunteer associate at the JVC, said the response she received from the event, which helped benefit Living Classrooms and other JVC shelter programs, was greater than she imagined.
“What we’re doing, it seems pretty simple,” Ade said. “And we have noticed many of the people say, ‘Oh, it is simple and fun.’ I think people feel genuinely good about doing these projects.”
The soup kit, designed to serve up to four people, contained lentils, yellow and green split pears, barley, chili powder, ground cumin, garlic and onion power and one bouillon cube. A 12- to 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, five cups of water in a pot and one-and-a-half to two hours of cooking time — depending on a person’s desired consistency — were the only required steps to completion.
— Justin Silberman