A Sukkah to Educate the Masses

By Victoria Remley

The Jewish Culture Club’s sukkah building and decorating event took place Sept. 20 and educated Youngstown State University students about Jewish culture.

Jacob Labendz, assistant professor in the history department and faculty advisor for the club, said Sukkot celebrates the ancient Israelites journey into Jerusalem to offer them fruits from their harvest.

Sukkot is one of three pilgrimage festivals in ancient Israel. In the Bible, the three festivals transform into celebrations of different aspects of biblical myth. Labendz said in this case, it’s the Jews wandering through the desert for 40 years before entering the land of Canaan, which they took over.

Photo by Tanner Mondok/The Jambar

“Living in temporary structures is to remind us of the Exodus from Egypt and the transformation into a nation and then eventually into the coming of the land of Israel,” he said.

The club made a sukkah at the event, which is a temporary structure where Jews traditionally eat celebratory meals and sometimes pray. Sometimes they sleep in them during the festival of Sukkot. Labendz encourages students and faculty to eat their meals in the sukkah.

The event has been going on for many years. Labendz enjoys beginning YSU’s academic school year with the festival of Sukkot because the academic calendar and Jewish calendar coincide. He said through the festival, he wants to teach people about a minority religion.

One of the traditions of Sukkot is inviting guests into a person’s sukkah. Different guests come into the structure every day. People can invite religious guests such as Moses, friends and family into their sukkah.

“For me, this aligns very well with the most important traditions of Sukkot, which is to invite guests in,” Labendz said. “It’s a time when the Jewish community at YSU can invite non-Jews as well to participate in our events.”

He said he enjoys finding students inside and outside of the Jewish community that want to learn about Jewish culture. Most of the members of the club are not Jewish.

Shane Dawson, a junior history major and president of the Jewish club, said the club sponsored and ran the event with Labendz’s help.

Photo by Tanner Mondok/The Jambar

The event gave YSU students and faculty exposure to Jewish culture and acquainted them with one of the Jewish culture’s lesser known holidays. Dawson said students and faculty had the opportunity to meet new people and eat free food.

Anantha Gunturu, a graduate electrical engineering student, wanted to learn about Jewish culture because some of her close family and friends are Jewish. When she came to YSU, she saw fliers on a notice board about a culture club. She decided the club would be a good place to get to know other Jewish students, so she emailed Labendz.

Gunturu came to the event to help the club grow. The club is new, and this was their first large event.

“I was really excited to come understand the festival and then to also understand its significance in history,” she said.

The sukkah will be open until Oct.1. It is located on DeBartolo Hall’s outdoor plaza.

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