Members of Hillel Build Structure For Sukkot Holiday


The Sukkah tent, built by members of Hillel, sits outside Bicentennial Hall.

Students walking toward Bicentennial Hall this week will notice a large, green structure standing in the middle of the grass. With tarps for walls and pine boughs for a roof, the tent-like construction is a Sukkah, a traditional element of the Jewish harvest festival, Sukkot. Sukkot commemorates when the Jewish people lived in tents in the fields during harvest. 

Sukkot began on the evening of Sept. 23 and lasts eight days until the evening of Sept. 30.  During that time, Jewish students will eat, celebrate, and even sleep, in the Sukkah, in accordance with custom. 

According to Rabbi Danielle Stillman, an associate chaplain at the college, Sukkot dates back to when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. 

“Jews would go on a pilgrimage to it and offer sacrifices,” she said. “It was the last chance to do this before the winter rains, so it was a very festive time.”

Stillman said Sukkot is her favorite holiday. 

“It encourages us to be outside at a beautiful yet sometimes chilly time of year, when we might be tempted to stay in,” she said. “It celebrates the fall harvest and it is all about joy and being with people.”

In past years, the Facilities Services Office has set up a Sukkah on the side of the Freeman International Center. This year, Hillel decided to take part in the building process themselves, choosing to build a larger structure to make hosting events easier. This past Sunday, nearly 20 students and a few faculty members helped build and decorate the Sukkah. 

Hillel Co-President Cece Alter ’19 enjoyed the construction process. 

“We worked quickly and laughed a lot, trying not to let any poles fall on each other,” she said.

One traditional part of Sukkot is actually sleeping in the Sukkah. This year, Hillel board member Abigail Browngoehl ’19 decided to spend a night outside. 

“During Sukkot, it’s customary to spend time and even sleep in this structure, where you’ll be able to see the stars through the roof,” Browngoehl said. “It felt like the perfect opportunity to experience that tradition of Sukkot. My boyfriend was visiting from home so I had taken out a tent, sleeping bags and pads, and headlamps from the Gear Room to keep us warm in this cool transition from summer to fall.” 

Browngoehl hopes that, in the years to come, sleeping in the Sukkah and staring up at the stars will become a tradition at Middlebury.

Several events are planned this week in celebration of the holiday. A visiting Torah Scribe will be hosted for dinner tonight in the Sukkah. 

On Friday, Hillel will also be holding their weekly Shabbat services at 5:30 p.m., and those who want can join for a 6:30 p.m. dinner in the Sukkah. 

Alter encourages everyone to come check out the Sukkah out this week while it’s up. 

“We’re meant to be grateful for the harvest and spend lots of time in the Sukkah, so don’t hesitate to bring your plate from Ross and have a meal in it,” she said.