By Blair Donner
A middle school camping trip was the last time I could recall sleeping in a tent. As for a Sukkah? I could barely recall, it might have been when I used to go to Hebrew School in elementary school, but even then I only vaguely remember eating in one. That’s why the experience of eating a Sukkot meal at Chabad House this high holiday season was so unique for me. I knew that the holiday existed, but it had been such a long time since I observed it. Unfortunately, ever since my grandfather passed, my family had lost touch with Judaism. Until coming to Rutgers University and getting involved with Chabad House, I had also had lost connection with my Jewish identity. As a result, this Sukkot was very special for me.
I sat alongside friends in the Sukkah behind the Chabad House building. The weather outside was rainy and cold, but the amount of people joined together for the meal warmed the inside of the tent up. Rabbi Baruch Goodman lead the traditional prayer as usual, and blessings were said by all the members. Although I felt uncomfortable sitting outside I tried to reflect on how the Jewish people felt when crossing Egypt. I tried to reflect on the story of Sukkot.
The tale surrounding Sukkot goes something like this. Thousands of years ago, after escaping the iron tyranny of the Egyptian pharaoh, the Jewish people wandered the Sinai desert. In order to protect them from the harsh conditions of the desert, G-d employed a magical cloud-like barrier to keep the Jewish people warm at night and cool in the day. Today, we dwell in the Sukkah during this holiday to remember the mercy and love of G-d for his Jewish people.
Experiencing this for the first time in a long time was like reconnecting with the story of the Jewish people escaping Egypt. Sometimes it’s one thing to read or hear about their journey, it’s another to observe a tradition reflecting that journey. Participating in Chabad’s event was another important step in my personal development as Jewish woman in understanding and experiencing important cultural and religious aspects of this precious religion. What more, I got to do so surrounded by loving classmates and friends while enjoying great food offered by the service!
For any Jewish person who, like me, has not observed these holidays, I want you to understand that it’s never too late. Observing every law in the Torah rigorously does not make you more of a Jew than someone who cannot even say a prayer in Hebrew. All of us are alike, and it’s never too late to get back in touch with your roots. After all, on Sukkot we shake the lulav to symbolize that the various personalities of the Jewish people are all one. If you are unsure of how to go about restoring a foundation in your Jewish culture, Chabad House at Rutgers as the center for Jewish life is a great place to start.
For more information about Chabad House at Rutgers, visit us on the web at chabadrutgers.com, chabadnj.org, or call 732-296-1800