Ahead of the White House Interfaith Collegiate Conference at Georgetown yesterday, the Jewish Chaplaincy upgraded its sukkah, a hut for the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot, with the help of two award-winning Sukkah architects.
Sukkot, which started Wednesday evening, commemorates Jews’ wandering through the desert for 40 years with the building of temporary structures called Sukkahs.
Director of Jewish Chaplaincy Rabbi Rachel Gartner approached architects Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, who had previously won the People’s Choice Award in the 2010 Sukkah City NYC competition.
“I kind of told them about Georgetown and what an exciting place this is. They got excited about the idea of building something in an interfaith context,” Gartner said. “The joke was they got really excited about building a sukkah for the Pope.”
Gartner initially decided to contact the architects after getting a call from staff at the White House Interfaith Collegiate Conference, which asked whether Georgetown would have a sukkah available for anyone who wanted to use it when the conference came to campus this past Monday.
The combination of interfaith exploration and architectural creativity spoke to both architects. While Bryan is not Jewish, he was intrigued by the specific rules involved in building kosher sukkahs, such as the need for a temporary roof. These constraints differ greatly from those the architects deal with on a daily basis.
In addition to traditional laws for building sukkahs, Gartner specified that the sukkah be reusable, modern and even more open than required. While traditional laws can be specific and challenging to follow, Grosman explained that the most challenging rule of all was building a collapsible, reusable sukkah, which explains its unique design.
“The hardest [rule to follow] was trying to figure out how it could be something really interesting and also taken apart and put into pieces that could be assembled in a relatively simple way,” Grosman said.
In the past, the Jewish Student Association has had a sukkah for Sukkot, but nothing comparable to what Bryan and Grosman have built this year.
“Now we have a formidable structure, … which is really great because it says there is a strong presence of Jewish community on campus that enjoys being able to reflect on their own traditions even though they don’t go to a school that is dominated by people who share the same culture,” Jewish Student Association Co-President Sapir Yarden (SFS ’15) said.
The idea of Sukkot is to dwell in the sukkah. Gartner hopes that everyone will use the sukkah.
Construction began Sept. 17, with an opening reception last Wednesday. This past Friday, Gartner organized the second-ever Shabbat on the lawn, featuring a jazz band from New York and Georgetown University Grilling Society burgers. Some synagogue visitors were invited to stop by Saturday, and the structure will also be available to members of the White House Interfaith Collegiate Conference for the rest of the conference. The sukkah will remain standing through Sunday, a few days after the end of Sukkot and will be stored to be rebuilt for Sukkot next year.