Sukkot in Chicago: The House Behind the Daley Center

file-oct-22-12-00-12-amOne of the things I love the most about Chicago is the uneasy peace treaty we have made between our public spaces and our religious expressions. Nowhere is this more clearly visible than on the concrete bazaar surrounding the Daley Center. There’s a new building, and it’s here for Sukkot.

Several times a year, the south and east sides of the plaza get festooned with a picture of Jesus, or a huge menorah, or a cross, or a really ludicrously large Atlanta Braves “A.”

Wait – that’s actually a symbol for atheism, apparently. But it sure looks like the Braves logo.

After three years here in Chicago, I thought I had seen it all. But then I realized there is a north side to the plaza.

So while I was walking on my way to lunch earlier this week, I discovered that somebody built a house there.

By “somebody,” I mean the Chicago Chabad, an international organizations that promotes orthodox forms of Jewish learning and piety. And by “house,” I mean a sukkah.

A sukkah is the traditional structure built to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles – better known by its Hebrew name, Sukkot.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library online:

Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters… A sukkah must have at least three walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind. Canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable and quite common in the United States. A sukkah may be any size, so long as it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. The roof of the sukkah must be made of material referred to as sekhakh (literally, covering). To fulfill the commandment, sekhakh must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, or two-by-fours. Sekhakh must be left loose, not tied together or tied down. Sekhakh must be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in, and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so sparsely that more than ten inches is open at any point or that there is more light than shade.

As you can see, the Daley sukkah fulfills the stated requirements. It is sturdy, and clearly large enough for a good number of folks to fit into. And the roof is alight with local greenery.

The holiday this year runs from Sundown October 16th through nightfall October 24th. After Sukkot ends, there is the festival of Simchas Torah, which marks the start of a fresh round of readings in the yearly Torah cycle. The holiday is celebrated with a lot of joyous dancing.

The Chabad Center of Downtown Chicago is the sponsor of this particular sukkah, and they have a daily schedule of events for it – including a way to RSVP for a meal there.

Of all the public displays I have seen on Daley Plaza in my three years, this one might be my favorite – though I do still get a kick out of that huge “A.”

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