Ten Jewish families in Pittsburgh will dine with friends in new sukkahs this holiday season thanks to an anonymous donor and an initiative of Congregation Beth Shalom.
The donor, who does not live in Pittsburgh but provided worshippers in the city with 10 high-quality sukkah-building kits, reached out to Rabbi Seth Adelson, now of Congregation Beth Shalom, when Adelson was still in his first cantorial pulpit in Manhattan several years ago.
The project followed Adelson to the bimah in Long Island, where he previously served a congregation as rabbi, then to Pittsburgh. In other words, Congregation Beth Shalom is not the first beneficiary of the donor’s zeal for the holiday.
“This donor approached me and said, ‘I really love the holiday of Sukkot and I think it’s the best holiday for families,’” Adelson told the Chronicle. The rabbi said he didn’t know how many kits the donor provides in total each year to various congregations.
The only requirement for those who receive the kits? The typically younger Jewish families must invite guests to eat in their sukkah each year.
That’s no small gesture — the numbers add up quickly. In 2020, despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, those 10 families associated with Congregation Beth Shalom served 73 distinct guests, according to Rabbi Larry Freedman, director of JJEP (Joint Jewish Education Program), who helps administer the program.
“This [donor], he’s very into Jewish life and he has this notion that, if families do things together, it brings them together,” Freedman said. “It builds Jewish identity but in a very real way — the kids can help. My kids went from being schleppers to being so proud they could use the power drill.”
Using the sukkah-building-kit, which includes pipes, fasteners and heavy-duty plastic sheaths, Freedman said, “makes kids very engaged in living a Jewish life.”
“It’s literally not at arm’s length,” Freedman said. “And I think … that’s why kids love it.”
And what has this program meant to Adelson throughout his years at various congregations?
“What I feel like I’m doing is what I always feel as a rabbi — I’m sharing the love of Jewish life,” he said. “We’re working to ensure people take part in a Sukkot dinner … and we are doing it in a Jewish context.”
“If every Jewish family had a sukkah,” he added, “how great would that be?” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.