A House of Holiday Celebration

Photo by Maxwell Reide.

In a wooden hut under the stars, the New Paltz Chabad House held a Sukkot dinner in keeping with thousands of years of holiday tradition.

On Oct. 9, Rabbi Moshe Plotkin invited all interested students to the Chabad House to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The holiday of Sukkot is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, which usually varies from late September to late October. It is the last of the three Pilgrimage Festivals, traditionally celebrated by making a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem.

Plotkin and his wife started the Chabad House 11 years ago here in New Paltz.

“Chabad Houses are actually quite common for college universities,” Plotkin said. “My wife and I both wanted to set one up here at New Paltz because we always loved coming here for the hiking and setting,” he said. “That and the fact that Jewish students didn’t have a place to get together as a family and thank God.”

The hut is known as a sukkah. In accordance with Jewish law, Jews are meant to dwell in their temporary shelters for eight days as their ancestors did in the wilderness. Owners eat all of their meals inside and if possible, sleep there during the night as well.

While most of the hut can be constructed of wood, the roof of the sukkah has to be made of a material called sekhakh, which literally means covering. This covering must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, bamboo reeds or even sticks.

One of the students in attendance was second-year accounting major Jacob Schneider, who is also part of the Jewish Fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. As a first-year, Schneider had gone to the Chabad house a couple of times, but since becoming a brother of the frat, Jacob continues to go to the house every week.

“The Chabad Executive Board members are some of the best people I know and they always appreciate [our] input,” Schneider said. “They’re always on point and they really make the sessions at the house fun alongside the Rabbi.”

Plotkin said anyone is welcome at the house and noted he puts in effort to get the community interested.

“I take visits to the main part of campus every now and then [to see] if any students that are passing by want to take part in some of our customs or have any questions to ask us,” he said.

He said with the help of Alpha Epsilon Pi and social media, the message gets out.

“The house is usually filled with so many students eager to partake in our services,” he said.

The morning after, Schneider met with Rabbi in-between class sessions outside the Humanities building and performed in another observance of Sukkot traditions. Those taking part in the holiday are commanded to take the Four Species, also known as the “lulav” and “etrog” and say a prayer and shake the species in a specific pattern. These four species are not animals, but merely species of plants and a citrus fruit.

These items include a palm branch, two willow branches, three myrtle branches and the citrus fruit, etrog.

The six branches are bound together and referred to collectively as the lulav. With the etrog held next to it, the prayer is recited and the items are shaked three times in each of the six directions.

For more information on the Chabad House events, look up Chabad of New Paltz on Facebook or look for Plotkin on campus.