What is the bamboo structure behind Sharples?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The structure with green walls and a bamboo roof that can sometimes be seen at the back entrance to Sharples is a sukkah, a word which means “tent” or “booth” in Hebrew. Ruach builds the sukkah every year in order to properly celebrate the eight-day harvest festival of Sukkot, which generally falls somewhere in October.

According to Ruach co-president Sarah Ifft ’09, Sukkot is “a celebration of God’s protection of the Jews when they lived in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. The sukkah is supposed to resemble the type of hut in which these ancient Jews lived, so that modern Jews can understand their ancestors’ experience.” According to Jewish law, the sukkah must be a temporary building that is at least three feet tall, and the roof should be made of an organic material such as palm leaves or bamboo. Furthermore, “the inside is often decorated with things such as streamers, ornaments, or fake fruit, as part of a custom called ‘beautifying the commandment.'”

Ifft explained that during Sukkot, “the Torah dictates… that Jews are required literally to ‘sit’ or ‘dwell’ in the sukkah, which is usually interpreted to mean that one should eat, sleep, and study there.” While the chilly Swarthmore climate means that few students spend the entire eight days living there, “Ruach events have included parties and an overnight stay in the sukkah. We place the sukkah behind Sharples to make it easier for students who wish to eat their meals there.”

Rebekah Rosenfeld ’07 built a second sukkah this year in the backyard in Kyle House. “As someone who was in the Religion and Ecology class and was hoping to build one on my own,” said Rosenfeld, “I asked people in the class if they’d like to help.” She ended up building it with Katie Sauvain ’09, another student in the class, “using materials found in the Crum, such as fallen branches, and materials borrowed from a neighbor’s garden, like bamboo and vines.”

Although the fragile Kyle House sukkah “fell over a few times,” recalled Rosenfeld, “I’m still glad we made it… I enjoyed the collective building process, and it reminded me of the way I observed the holiday growing up, building a sukkah with my family.”

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