Stevenson University’s Jewish Student Association had about 20 students at its Greenspring campus construct and decorate a sukkah on Sept. 25 in preparation for Sukkot.
“We want to put up a sukkah to expose any students on the Greenspring campus to something Jewish,” said Rachel Rudo, president of the JSA and a human services major. “We wanted something to show that the Jewish Student Association means business and wants to make a difference.”
Lauri Weiner, an associate professor of human services at Stevenson and adviser to the JSA, said that students tried to form a club in the past, but efforts slowed after many in the leadership graduated.
“We were talking about different events that we could do, and we felt a sukkah would be something everyone would notice,” said Weiner. “It’d be a good way to start educating people on different Jewish holidays.”
Weiner added that seeing a sukkah on campus might encourage students who have not identified as Jewish to do so.
According to the 2013 Pew Research study, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, 32 percent of those polled in the millennial generation (born after 1980) described themselves as “Jews of no religion” or people who identify as Jewish based on their ancestry, ethnicity or culture. That number decreases as the ages of those polled increased.
Weiner, who was raised Reform but is now Conservative, feels positive about this year’s leadership because they have more time to establish the club before they graduate. Rudo, also Conservative, echoed her sentiments.
“This year, the officers are very involved, very into it and have been contributing ideas since we picked officers in early May,” she said.
“We’re very excited that JSA got off to good start and that we’re doing things together. Hopefully, we’ll have a successful year,” said Goldman, the club’s treasurer who is Orthodox.
Aside from encouraging Jewish students on campus to embrace their heritage, the club is also hoping to educate others about the culture of Judaism. The sukkah will be open for use throughout the seven days of Sukkot to anyone who is passing by.
A sign explaining the basic story of Sukkot is next to its entrance, and another sign, written in Hebrew reads, “Welcome friends.” Additionally, when available, a member of the JSA will sit near the sukkah with a lulav and etrog to explain their significance to the holiday.
As some students constructed the sukkah frame and covered the roof, others created decorations, which included tracing their hands on construction paper. Weiner explained that the hands were used as decoration to represent each person who took part in the sukkah’s construction.
The club has attracted attention.
“A lot of students are not aware of this holiday; they’re aware of the [other] main holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but this is their first exposure to Sukkot,” said Jonathan Lasson, an adjunct professor of psychology who came out to help students build the sukkah. Lasson added he has built sukkahs for several decades and assisted his parents when he was young.
“Just getting a better understanding of some of the things that are a part of our heritage that people don’t know about, it’s a wonderful experience for students,” he said.