The rabbi's brother helped build the bamboo roof that completed the sukkah, which is a makeshift hut where meals are eaten during the Sukkot holiday. Cassandra Garibay | Mustang News

The stars are visible through the bamboo roof that completes the sukkah, as members of the Jewish Cal Poly community gather around a holiday feast to celebrate Sukkot.

Sukkot is a Jewish holiday associated with harvest and pilgrimage. The holiday is celebrated with three main practices, or mitzvahs. One of those mitzvahs is the sukkah.

A sukkah, as Rabbi Chaim Hilel, is a hut or structure that is built with four walls and a Schach roof, a roof made of plant material.  The sukkah pays respect to ancestors who made the journey from Egypt to modern-day Israel.

“The sukkah represents that in between stage, you’re a nomad,” Hilel said.

Traditionally, the sukkah is meant to be lived in for seven days and technology is restricted to cooking applications. However, Hilel said, to both appeal to students and accommodate their schedule, he hosts dinners in the sukkah he builds every year.

Another observance of the holiday is to gather lulav —a type of palm, etrog — a citrus, myrtle wood and a willow branch and shake them together. This observance pays homage to the harvest season.

Hilel also said the four different plants represent four different types of people — people of action, scholarly people, people who are both and people who are neither. Shaking the four symbols together represents change, he said.

“Many times we are stagnant because we are not working together but if we just harness that power, that energy of all of us, all types of people coming together we can actually make change,” Hilel said.

The last observance of Sukkot is to celebrate with community and be happy, the rabbi said.

Sukkot events for students

Events such as Soup in the Sukkah, Shabbat Under the Stars, and Sushi in the Sukkah have become annual events hosted at Hilel’s home, which is referred to as the Chabad house. The Chabad house is where the rabbi serves shabbat dinner every Friday to community members and Cal Poly students, serving over 100 students a week. 

Hilel said these practices serve as a way for Jewish students to celebrate the holidays away from home.

“When I think of community I think of my Jewish community,” electrical engineering freshman Josh Raikin said. “It’s like part of who I am and something I’m very proud of, so going to Chabad is really comforting to me.”

Raikin is the freshman representative for Hillel, an on-campus Jewish organization. Raikin said there are many Jewish holidays during late September and early October, making for a busy fall.

“You make it work, you have to balance your school life and all your obligations just like anyone else,” Chabad Co-President Meghan Gross said.

Business administration senior Gross has been involved with Hillel for four years and has found a “home away from home” in the Jewish community at Cal Poly.

Similarly, Chabad Co-President Alexa Freedman has been able to accommodate her schedule to incorporate her upbringing along with her new learnings.

“You just go to your teacher and tell them, ‘This is an important holiday to me I am going to be praying all day, it’s not like I’m going to be partying or something,’ they usually are pretty nice about it,” child development senior Freedman said.

However, if some members are not able to attend events, Freedman said the community is very understanding and accepting of busy college students.

Freedman and Gross encourage any students who are curious about Judaism to attend shabbat, which takes place every Friday.

“It’s a really special community of people that just want to hang out and want to be together and just love the culture that we’ve built here,” Gross said.

Correction: A previous version of this article identified Alexa Freedman and Meghan Gross as co-presidents of Hilel. This has been changed to reflect that they are co-presidents of Chabad.

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