Jewish fall festival at Fairfield University a time of thanksgiving

Submitted by Meg McCaffrey on November 12, 2012

The Fairfield University campus community met in a sukkah for lunch, classes and reflection during the Jewish fall festival. Students Rachel Sperry,’14, left, and Catherine Hughes, right, with Dr. Ellen Umansky, director of Fairfield University’s Bennett Center for Judaic Studies.

The Jewish fall harvest festival of sukkot, recently celebrated at Fairfield University, is an event on which the American holiday of Thanksgiving is based.

The campus festivities were highlighted by Fairfield students constructing a sukkah – or temporary hut – that was intended to serve as a reminder that there are thousands of Americans and millions throughout the world who are homeless and don’t have sufficient food. “It is a time to consider the fragility of life and to be grateful for what you have,” said Ellen Umansky, Ph.D., director of the University’s Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, which co-hosted the celebration with Kadima, the undergraduate Jewish cultural group.

The fall festival also symbolizes when Jews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years between Egypt and Canaan. During those years, Jews lived in these dwellings, in search of a new homeland. The hope is that people rejoice and at the same time strengthen their resolve in honor of those Jews.

“I found the experience of gathering in the sukkah enlightening in that I learned a great deal about the meaning of the Sukkot holiday, and a confirmation of the Jesuits’ welcoming attitude towards people of all faiths,” said Claudia Nielsen, assistant director of Institutional Giving, as she enjoyed a meal there with faculty, staff and students. “I felt a real spirit of inclusion when I entered the sukkah.”

“It was interesting to learn about the history of Sukkot and its traditions right in this hut,” said an undergraduate student.

The season is traditionally celebrated by eating in (and for some religious Jews, even sleeping in) these outdoor huts. Kadima and the Bennett Center invited the campus community to gather for lunch, hold class and meditate in the sukkah over the course of the weeklong festival. Located in the plaza between Donnarumma and Canisius Halls, its dining table was adorned with pumpkins and gourds, its canvas walls stringed with fruit and produce, and its roof with bamboo shoots and palms. The decorations were a nod to the palm, willow, myrtle and etrog (a citrus fruit) that are harvested in the fall in Israel.


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