A proper celebration

Jewish families enjoy feast under traditional sukkah

Monday, October 1, 2007


of the Journal Star

PEORIA - Michael Uretzky liked seeing friends.

Blake Randell liked the magic tricks.

Esther Langsam enjoyed making an edible sukkah.

And her father, Rabbi Eli Langsam, liked seeing children and adults fulfill two commandments of Jewish law: Sitting in a sukkah and shaking a lulav and an etrog, two main components of the Feast of Sukkot.

More than 40 people turned out for Sunday's "Kosher Pizza in a Hut" party behind Langsam's home.

During the Feast of Sukkot, Jews are instructed to build and sit in a temporary hut called a sukkah. Langsam said a sukkah - the plural is sukkot -is symbolic of God's protective covering of glory over the ancient Israelites as they left Egypt. It also recalls the types of shelters used by the Israelites during their 40-year sojourn in the desert.

In addition, Jews are commanded to shake a lulav - date palm branch, myrtle branches and willow branches - along with an etrove, or a citron fruit, as a way of rejoicing during the feast.

As the central Illinois representative of the Lubavitch Chabad movement, one of Langsam's jobs is to get Jews interested in performing more of the commandments. On Sunday, the attractions were kosher pizza shipped in from Chicago, the construction of miniature sukkots from graham crackers, pretzels, marshmallow creme and green sprinkles, and a magician.

"We're trying to get them to enjoy coming to the sukkah," Langsam said.

The rabbi's sukkah, built off a garage entrance in back of his house, is about 20 feet by 20 feet and made from plywood, 2-by-4s and lattice. To be a proper sukkah, the hut must have three walls, a roof made from vegetation - Langsam uses bamboo mats - and have more shade than sun.

Jews are expected to make the sukkah their temporary home during the feast, which this year began Wednesday night and will end at sunset this coming Wednesday.

"Every meal I have is always in the sukkah," Langsam said. "If I eat something or I drink something, I do it in the sukkah. We have to move out of our house, in a sense."

Sunday's party was a crowded affair with enthusiastic children.

"I think it's just good to get the kids in the community together," said Jenny Kravetz, one of the organizers. "When they come together for the holiday, it gives them the opportunity to see each other and play with kids of their own faith."

Bonnie Steinberg of Peru brought her twins to Peoria for the party because she said there is no Jewish community in the LaSalle County city.

"Rabbi Langsam is very inviting and generous, and that's why we are here," she said.

As the rabbi's guests ate, Langsam went around the sukkah with his lulav and etrog set and invited both children and adults to say the blessing over them and then give them a quick shake.

The party accomplished a parental goal for Blake Randell's father, Rich: "To make sure Blake is involved with religious activities."

"It's a good gathering of kids and families," the Dunlap area resident said.

Michael Miller can be reached at 686-3106 or [email protected].