For the first time the Lory Student Center (LSC) Board of Governors gave permission for a temporary structure to be erected in the LSC Plaza overnight last week. In honor of the Jewish eight-day festival of Sukkot, celebrated in late September and early October, LSC officials gave the CSU Jewish community the opportunity to place a Sukkah tent on the LSC Plaza lawn from Wednesday last week to Thursday this week.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik, faculty adviser to CSU Chabad Jewish Student Alliance (CJSA) petitioned prior to the festival to the Board of Governors to have them recognize the holiday not as a political event with an agenda to convert students, but as a service to the university’s Jewish community.
The university does not normally allow temporary structures to stand overnight because of liability issues, like vandalism. But the Board of Governors made an exception for the Sukkah because of its cultural significance and the precedent set last year by CJSA that the Sukkah would be safe, said Chairman of the Board of Governors, Estevan Jaimes.
Last year, the Sukkah was built on the Natural Resources Building lawn, said Sage Morris-Greene, co-president of CJSA.
The Rabbi said the Board of Governors’ willingness to bend the rules and allow the structure to be erected sends a positive message to Jewish students.
“I presented it as a cultural issue, and they all gave me round of applause when I finished,” Gorelik said. “By understanding each other, we live together better . it sends a very strong message to the students that the governing board agreed.”
The structure is a small tent made from palm leaves, bamboo, and various other types of plants. Jewish students spend time, eat and appreciate their privileges in the Sukkah.
Some of them even sleep there, Gorelik said.
It was time for CSU acceptance of the Sukkah as a religious need among students, he said.
“Hundreds of colleges across America have Sukkahs,” he said.
But because many schools have larger Jewish communities, Jewish students have a louder voice and more resources “whereas here they are a minority,” Gorelik said.
“There are 3,000 Jewish students at CU as opposed to a couple hundred here,” he said. “We’re trying to make it an easier place for a Jew to be Jewish by providing resources” like the Sukkah.
Sukkot is a remembrance of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, after which the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness and lived in tents.
“The tradition started when the Jews where traveling around in the desert and they didn’t have a traditional home and the temporary structure really emphasizes that aspect of it,” Morris-Greene said.
“For me, it’s bringing a group of people together to have a good time and look at your heritage and just practice some of the old traditions,” said David Perloe, the other co-president of CJSA.
The festival is steeped in various traditions. For example, citrus fruit and tree boughs called the “four species” are waived in ritual to recognize the four different levels of Jewish knowledge and commitment.
The fruit and leaves represent smell or taste or both. The plants are date palm branches and willow and myrtle leaves tied together to make what is called a lolav, and a lemon-like citrus fruit called an etrog.
“These represent the four kinds of people you need to make a unified community,” Morris-Greene said.
Gorelik said the goal of the festival is not to convert students to Judaism, but to provide a platform for Jewish students to exercise their faith.
“It’s not a display, it’s not something that’s symbolic in the sense that ‘I like to have my interests being promoted,'” he said. “This is a cultural need.”
Otherwise students would have to say, “‘When I come to CSU, I can’t be Jewish for those eight days,'” the Rabbi said.
Chabad is the largest and fastest growing Jewish organization in the world, with over 4000 centers worldwide. Leaders in the organization, like Gorelik “help Jewish people be Jewish,” he said. There are 15 centers in Colorado.
He said they exist to provide a non-judgmental Jewish education to anyone who is interested. Senior reporter Aaron Hedge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org