Rejoicing in the harvest

Members of Milwaukee's Jewish community celebrated the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot on Monday by bringing their traditions to Marquette.

The Hillel Foundation-Milwaukee worked with the Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun, a Reform Jewish temple, to fashion the "Sukkahmobile," a portable version of the "sukkahs," or temporary houses, that many Jews traditionally live in to celebrate the seven-day holiday.

The Sukkahmobile rested on a wagon in Lot A, 1515 W. Wells St., and later moved to Lot J, 601 N. 11th St.

"Many Jews will build these in their backyards to eat and sleep in them," said Mark Berkson, rabbi at the Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun temple. "You even could watch the Packer game inside."

Sukkot begins 15 days after Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the new Jewish year.

"This is the one festival where we truly rejoice in the harvest," Berkson said.

The Sukkahmobile was made of wood and turkey wire and was covered in tree leaves, according to Robert Jenkins, a member of the temple brotherhood who helped coordinate the visit to Marquette. He said sukkahs are often made of linen and aluminum poles or sheets and plywood as well.

"It can't be permanent. It will be torn down in a couple of hours," Jenkins said.

A sukkah has four sides and a roof that cannot entirely enclose the hut, Jenkins said. Families in the congregation gathered Saturday night to build the Sukkahmobile.

"We're not supposed to be protected from the elements," Berkson said. "Our true reliance needs to be on God."

Every morning during Sukkot, Berkson said, a family will gather in the sukkah to prayerfully shake a group of the harvest products, each of which symbolizes a part of the body, in different directions beginning with the east.

Every night, a family will invite important and invisible Biblical guests, called "ushpizin," like Abraham or Jacob into the sukkah. Families are also encouraged to welcome friends and the homeless in for shelter and food.

"There are lots of people who have to live in these huts year-round. It makes one far more understanding of and empathetic to those in need," Berkson said.

Abigail Rosen, a post-doctoral student, said she went to the Sukkahmobile to connect with Marquette's Jewish community, though she rarely celebrated Sukkot this way in the past. She said Sukkot plays a bigger universal role this year than before.

"It reminds us that we need to help those who are homeless because of the hurricanes," Rosen said. "The idea of helping refugees is something that Christians and Jews are coming together on."

The Hillel Foundation-Milwaukee also sponsors interfaith Seder meals and forums about the Jewish faith, said Heather Zucker, Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow for the Foundation.

"Although the Jewish community is small, it needs to be energized," Zucker said.

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on October 25, 2005.