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Sukkot in Madison Square Park

Oct 4, 2023 | Community

Sukkot in Madison Square Park

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You may have noticed during past autumns a temporary, wooden structure with a branched roof on the north end of Madison Square Park. 

This structure is called a sukkah, a principle element of the Jewish holiday, Sukkot, held this year from September 29 through October 6. Sukkot is a time that holds significance celebrating the harvest of the fall season, and abandoning materialism in favor of hospitality and community. 

Ian Devaney, our Senior Communications and Marketing Manager, met recently with Rabbi Levi Shmotkin, Director at Chabad for Young Professionals to discuss the sukkah in Madison Square Park.

 

The following has been edited for length.

Ian: How do you interpret the significance of Sukkot in the context of contemporary challenges and opportunities in our modern world?

Rabbi Levi: I think it’s actually very relevant to today’s times because one of the things that the sukkah represents is that the roof is not a real roof. We are open to the elements to some degree. I think oftentimes we’re in these concrete structures and we feel very secure. The very idea of Sukkot is that we go outside for one week a year.

Seasons begin to change around now, and sometimes it’s chilly outside. In terms of weather it’s sometimes not great, and we remind ourselves that we’re subject to some elements that are beyond ourselves. Even recently with the storms in late September, we are reminded of how lucky we are, how privileged we are, how fortunate we are, and how much gratitude we need to have for everything that we do have and the protection we have.

It simply reminds us that as humans we may need to rely on powers and forces beyond ourselves for protection and for our regular day-to-day existence.

Ian: How does that relate to the concept of impermanence and change? I wouldn’t call myself a scholar of Jewish history by any means, but is that a theme that you find resonates in Jewish history? 

Rabbi Levi: It definitely is a big theme in Jewish history. In terms of the amount that Jews have been sort of vagabonds around the world, always traveling, always being forced to pick up and to innovate and to find something new. 

Sukkot represents a little bit of that impermanence of traveling, of protection that we have while traveling. We had it in the desert, that idea and sense of impermanence. It’s not necessarily about the roots that you have always in the place that you are, but to be connected to something even higher and greater than that, whether it’s an ideal, a principle, a goal, a value, or something that transcends your immediate here and now. 

Ian: How long has the community been observing Sukkot in Madison Square Park?

Rabbi Levi: I think this is the fifteenth year – on Farragut lawn every time – it’s been on the same lawn every time. It’s been on Farragut lawn from the beginning.

Ian: Has your organization always been the one spearheading this or has it been more of more of a community effort? 

Rabbi Levi: We’ve led the community effort. In terms of building the sukkah and making sure that it’s here and available for use for anybody and everyone. Jews, non-Jews, anybody who wants to come in and use it, check it out, learn about it, just sit down and experience it, whatever it may be. 

Ian: If you could say perhaps one sentence to someone who may have never stepped foot in this structure before or might not be very familiar with the event itself, what would it be?

Rabbi Levi: I’d say the Sukkot Festival is celebrated by spending time in this temporary structure. It is a unifying structure because it brings together and encompasses all the world within it. The moment you walk in, you have commonality together by just being inside and having been part of that energy and that spirit.

You can learn more about Chabad Young Professionals and Sukkot by visiting: www.MSPSukkah.com

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