When Jeff Kornitzer, president of Chabad, found his club’s sukkah, a structure constructed in observance of the holiday Sukkot, leaning against a tree at about 8:30 a.m. Friday, his initial reaction was to call Campus Police. The immediate response was not, however, what one would expect from the police after a report of a possible hate crime.
“They basically said ‘what do you want from us?'” Kornitzer said.
After an investigation, it was theorized that wind knocked the sukkah over, but the initial theory was that someone had knocked it down.
Magda Manetas, executive director for Student and Residential Development, saw the damaged structure situated near the entrance to Brower Student Center as she was walking past. “It certainly could have been vandalism,” she said. “There have certainly been bias acts on campus over the years.”
Because of that possibility, Campus Police was called.
An officer was dispatched, after some coaxing by Manetas. According to Manetas, he was reluctant to write a report, despite the possibility that someone had knocked the sukkah down. He also refused Manetas’ request that he take a picture of the scene.
“He noted several times that I was trying to tell him to do his job,” Manetas said.
The officer wrote a report after speaking with Lynette Harris, director of Community Standards, but did not take a picture.
While all this was going on, Kornitzer and a few Chabad members worked for abour an hour and a half on reconstructing the sukkah. “The holiday doesn’t stop when things go awry,” Kornitzer said.
The word “sukkah” in Hebrew roughly translates to “booth” in English. During Sukkot, a sukkah is constructed in which Jews observing the holiday dwell in order to remind them of God’s presence in the desert, protecting them.
A Campus Police officer on the scene, who was unwilling to give his name, said, “There’s no evidence that indicates any kind of foul play.”
Michael Robertson, faculty advisor to Chabad, said, “I’m an English professor, not a structural engineer, but it was pretty clear to me that the violent wind on Thursday night could have easily blown the sukkah down.” Rabbi Yitzchach Goldenberg, director of the club, agreed with this assessment.
“It’s ingeniously constructed with PVC pipe and plastic tarp, but the tarps aren’t vented, and high winds would exert tremendous force on them,” Robertson said. Hillel/ Jewish Student Union’s sukkah, in contrast, is constructed primarily with wooden lattice, allowing wind to pass, and is located in the courtyard in front of Green Hall, where it has the cover of the surrounding trees.
Kornitzer was reluctant to cast blame on anyone. “We built the sukkah to give Jewish students and faculty the opportunity to fulfill the obligation to eat in the sukkah,” he said. “The most important part is we got it back up and we’re able to observe the holiday.”
In the Torah, God commands the Jews to dwell in the sukkah. And despite the morning’s setback, Robertson reported that they were able to do just that Friday night.
“The good news is that we quickly put the sukkah back up, and it was ready for Friday night’s dinner for two dozen people,” he said.