Paying Sukkot Forward
Throughout so many classes, sessions and discussions, Wexner Heritage members and alumni spend a lot of time brainstorming ways to increase inclusion, affiliation and other vital issues relating to Jewish identity.
One of my dearest friends has come up with an idea that I believe is brilliant in both design and execution. While my friend prefers to remain anonymous — we are both fans of the Rambam’s eight levels of charity, particularly his highest level where the recipient does not know who is giving, and the giver does not know who is receiving — he has given me permission to disseminate his idea, with the hope that the larger Wexner network will get in touch with us to see if we can scale this to other cities. And while I know it’s Passover season, please indulge me!
Here’s the idea: celebrating Sukkot is just plain fun. For both adults and children, decorating your sukkah and eating large meals with friends and family al fresco and “under the stars” is always a blast. I know that my kids never got tired of eating dinner outside, no matter how breezy the fall air. So the idea is to have as many people be able to share in the mitzvah of building their own sukkah and celebrate in it. My friend has contacted local clergy leaders and asked whether they knew of any congregants and/or community members who would like to share in the celebration of Sukkot, but may not currently have the resources to purchase a sukkah. Then he purchased sukkot and donated them anonymously to families that wanted one.
For the last three years my friend has purchased between 15 and 25 sukkot each year for donation to local synagogues. The clergy leaders of the synagogues then privately contact members to let them know that sukkot are available for free for congregants who currently do not own a sukkah and want to be able to give their families the experience of celebrating the holiday outside! More than 60 families, who previously could not afford to purchase, have now been able to enrich their lives with this wonderful ritual. Indeed, the feedback from the families that have received their sukkah has been resoundingly wonderful. Their emails and letters that have been shared by their clergy with my friend have all focused on the joy their children have experienced in participating in the construction and decoration of their sukkah and then being able to celebrate Sukkot “under the stars.”
Our goal now is to take this program to the next level. Sixty families in one geographic area is great, but imagine if we could get other cities to make the same commitment. In one year we could potentially touch 100 or even 500 families. Over the course of five years we could potentially give thousands of families the opportunity to celebrate in their own sukkah.
I wanted to let folks know about this idea now, as it will take some prep work and strategic thinking to get the process going. Anyone interested should email me. I hope that others will be inspired by my friend’s endeavor and join us in sharing the wonderfully fun holiday of Sukkot.
Claude Szyfer, WHP Alum (MetroWest, NJ 08) is the Administrative Partner for Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP’s Litigation Department, where he concentrates his work in antitrust, commodities and derivatives law, real estate litigation and counseling and general litigation. Fluent in Spanish, Claude’s family comes from Argentina and Chile. Claude served as a law clerk for the Honorable Alvin K. Hellerstein, United States District Court, Southern District of New York, from 1998 through 1999. He lives in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey with his wife Elana and their three amazing daughters. He can be reached at email@example.com.