Hillel celebrates Sukkot, explores housing issues

Liz Kohman

Minneapolis’ affordable housing crisis meshed with Jewish history at the Hillel Foundation on Monday as Jewish students prepared for the Sukkot – a holiday commemorating 40 years of Jews wandering in the desert.

The meeting served as a preview to an affordable housing fund-raiser at the center that will happen Saturday.

“(The holiday is) a reminder that all of us can find ourselves in the position of not having a place to live,” said Vic Rosenthal, a speaker from Jewish Community Action. JCA is a social justice group working on affordable housing issues.

The meeting took place in a Sukkah – a temporary house built each year in honor of the Sukkot holiday.

Sukkot commemorates the life of Jews after leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert without a homeland. During this period of time, they lived in temporary structures called Sukkot. Sukkah is a Hebrew word meaning “hut” or “booth.”

Rosenthal outlined the JCA goal of seeking long-term solutions for affordable housing.

“We need to help to build an infrastructure that will help provide affordable housing,” he said.

Many of the negative stereotypes concerning people in need of affordable housing are not true, he said. “The reality is a large percentage of the people who are homeless have a job.”

Students from Hillel plan to collect pledges for sleeping in the Sukkah on Saturday night to raise money for affordable housing programs.

Deah Blanke, a University sophomore who organized the event, said the fund-raiser offered an opportunity to camp out in the Sukkah.

“It makes perfect sense,” said Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, associate director of Hillel. She said the students were interested in helping different community organizations and affordable housing seemed relevant to the holiday.

The holiday began at sundown Monday and will be observed until Oct. 8.

As a part of Sukkot, Jews build a Sukkah outside of their houses and are supposed to live in it for seven days, according to Jewish law. Stiefel said many people choose to eat in the Sukkot, but do not sleep in it for the seven days.

Sukkot are three-sided structures built to offer protection from the elements.

There are many different sizes of Sukkot, and they can be decorated different ways. The roof of is supposed to be made of natural materials and be somewhat open, allowing habitants of the Sukkah to see the sky at night.

The Hillel center Sukkah stands on University Avenue outside the Hillel center. It’s painted in vivid colors depicting scenes of Jerusalem and symbols of the harvest. The top of the Sukkah is covered with cornstalks from the St. Paul campus.

Inside the structure, the walls are each painted a different color, and the sounds of traffic and students walking to classes linger.

Students participating in the fund-raiser look forward to the chance to help the community.

Allissa Smith, a third-year student majoring in family social science, said it was her way of contributing: “It’s a smaller community helping a bigger community.”

 

Liz Kohman welcomes comments at [email protected]