Sukkah in the Square

September 27 2023

You may have noticed a new structure in Arch Plaza. It’s a Sukkah! Sukkah, which roughly translates from Hebrew to english as booth or hut, is a simple building; four wooden sides and a roof made of branches, but its symbolism is far more complex than its construction.

Washington Square Park's Sukkah: a rectangular construction with brown walls and a green roof
The Sukkah in Washington Square Park

A Sukkah is a temporary construction that is built for use during the week-long Jewish festival known as Sukkot. This biblical Jewish holiday commemorates the years that the Jews spent wandering the desert on their journey to the Promised Land and celebrates the harvest. It is a joyous time of year and is often referred to as Z’man Simchateinu, or the Season of our Rejoicing.

Sukkahs are constructed with great care and consideration. It must be erected outdoors under the open sky. There must be at least two walls and one partial wall, although four is preferred. The roof must be covered with sechach一which means raw, unfinished vegetable matter that was once growing from the earth but has been disconnected from it and not previously used for any other purpose. The roof must also have enough gaps in it that rain and some sunlight can make it through.

Traditionally a family will eat their meals in the Sukkah and treat it as a temporary home during the holiday. In more temperate climates (and more private Sukkahs!) some will even sleep in the structure. The goal is to spend as much time in the Sukkah as possible during the holiday.

In addition to building and using a Sukkah, observers will participate in something called the taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (yellow citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs) and two aravot (willow twigs). These Four Kinds represent the differences among the Jewish people. On each day of the festival the Four Kinds are taken in hand, a blessing is recited over them, and they are brought together and “rejoiced” with. The rejoicing involves waving the Four Kinds in each of the six directions: up, down, front, back, left, and right. This is symbolic of all the kinds of Jews being bound together in unity as one people.

Sukkot begins at sundown on Friday, September 29th and ends the evening of Friday, October 6th. Thanks to Chabad House Bowery for building and maintaining this Sukkah during the holiday.