In its earliest stages, Sukkot was a marquee moment for Gratz College. The College was principally formed as a normal school, meant to support a pipeline of Jewish educators. But on the Sukkot holiday, the focus was placed on young people, the small but important division of the College.
Sukkot is a curious holiday, one that is obscured in the shadow of the preceding High Holy Days. Observers of this fall harvest festival construct a temporary structure. Ours takes up most of the backyard patio. The sukkah is a place to host meals and spend time with family and loved ones. The holiday serves as a reminder of God’s protection in the biblical Wilderness, to remove distractions that becloud us from thinking about the most important things in life.
In 1911, alumnus Israel Goldstein—in time, he’d become Rabbi Goldstein, the Zionist leader and head of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York—led a program for Philadelphia’s Jewish children in Mikveh Israel’s sukkah. To satisfy the academic bona fides of the College, Goldstein read a paper on “Tradition.” The young people also sang songs and “partook of the dainties that had been prepared for them by several of the ladies.”
Four years later, as Gratz College furnished an addition to its building, its leaders were heartened that the augmented site would redound to its Sukkot practices. Its new hall, apparently, “contains a large movable skylight that can be raised in such a way as to convert this hall into a Succah that accords with the ritual requirements.”
Gratz no longer builds a sukkah on its campus. But we still draw meaning from this legacy of educating young people. The College has recently expanded its dual enrollment
offerings to Jewish day schools and Philadelphia and Montgomery County public schools. We have also increased our partnerships with synagogue schools, to ensure the vitality of this important component of Jewish education.
The plan is to partner with local and national institutions, to accomplish much, much more.
Perhaps next year Gratz ought to build a sukkah.
With best wishes for a continued happy holiday season,