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Jews prepare for joyous holiday

The Journal News

With last night’s end of Yom Kippur and the conclusion of the season’s solemn and introspective period, Jews across Rockland turned their thoughts to the joyous holiday of Sukkot.

The sukkahs — or temporary outdoor structures — that dot homes in the area are evidence of the communal joy produced at the approach of the seven-day celebration.

Sukkot is both a remembrance of the desert wanderings of the Israelites after they were taken out of slavery in Egypt, as well as a celebration of the fall harvest.

Although the holiday begins Monday at sundown, preparations already were in high gear this week.

Aron Kaff, coordinator of the village of New Square, led a number of people Tuesday to a private field in New Jersey, where they gathered material for a large community sukkah to be built today.

The community preferred to harvest its own reeds, he said.

“This is a nice, a nice wheat,” Kaff said. “We just go in, and we pick it, and we bundle it.”

In other parts of the county, preparations were equally intense, if perhaps less elaborate.

Construction of the sukkah is a favorite activity of families and congregations.

Many Jews eat, sleep and pray inside the structures, which are built on decks and in the backyards of homes.

While sukkah walls may be made of various items, Jewish law requires that the roof, or “skhakh,” be of natural material, such as foliage, tree branches or bamboo.

In order to be kosher, the roofing must not be affixed to the structure, and it must allow a view of the stars. The sukkah may not sit under overhanging tree limbs.

For those who do not have their own sukkah, Chabad of New City is going to take the sukkah to them.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg said a mobile sukkah had been prepared to go out in the community.

“We custom-made a sukkah. It’s very, very strong, and we drive around, and we give people that have not had the opportunity to build a sukkah in their house or in their community” a chance “to come into the sukkah. It’s a beautiful thing, and we’re very glad to bring it to people,” he added.

At Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center in Chestnut Ridge, Rabbi Chaim Ehrenreich on Tuesday was joined by several children and their parents to erect a sukkah on the back deck of the center, which also is his home.

It was the first such experience for 12-year-old Marc Fruhling of Airmont.

“When I build anything, it’s kind of fun,” he said as he selected bamboo stalks for placement on top of the hut.

But Marc said his favorite part of Sukkot was “dinner.”

Those meals inside the hut were a special part of the experience, said Chaya Ehrenreich, the rabbi’s wife and center co-director.

“On the first night, we have about 50 people with their families, and they’re packed in here,” she said. “Many people in the community don’t have sukkahs, so I look forward to giving the community this great mitzvah.”

The sukkah would be open to the entire community, and the ceremonial lulav and etrog — palm fronds with myrtle and willow and a citron, representing the harvest — would be inside.

“It’s open for anyone to come in, even if we’re not home,” she explained, “and there are people that do that, even if we’re not here.”

Elise Sternlicht watched as her 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 12-year-old son, Russell, worked with the others.

Sternlicht said she looked forward to the coming dinner inside the sukkah.

“They really have given our family a place to come and to belong and really partake,” she said of Chabad. “It’s given us a wonderful opportunity.”

Jeff Kaplan of Chestnut Ridge worked alongside his 13-year-old son, Noah, to place bamboo sticks that had been dampened by the rain.

“We have one at home. It’s not like this. It’s like canvas, but we use the same bamboo,” Noah said.

While her three children, Mendel, 7, Chanale, 5, and Sarale, 2, cut evergreen limbs from a tree in the yard alongside their father and the other children from the community, Chaya Ehrenreich explained that Jews marked Sukkot in a sukkah to commemorate their forefathers’ tribulations.

Threats of inclement weather were not a deterrent.

“It’s very poignant when it rains,” she said. “I remember as a child my parents had guests, and the men stayed in the sukkah in the pouring rain. It brings out the beauty of the commandment even more, if people would stay in the sukkah even when it’s not comfortable.”

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