There are marathons for every possible activity — triathlons, pentathlons, decathlons — and then there’s Sukkathon.
This second annual event, hosted by Penn Hillel, celebrates the Jewish festival Sukkot, for which various campus clubs and groups each make sukkahs — huts constructed from wood, bamboo and other materials. The teams built their sukkahs last Sunday, and they will remain intact until Sept. 29: “Demolition Day.”
One such group is the Kelly Writers House, which joined for the first time this year. College senior Shoshana Akabas forged the connection between the House and Hillel, while College seniors Allison Wattenbarger and Kate Herzlin are both co-captains of the sukkah team.
Wattenbarger, a Jewish Studies minor, was intrigued by the Sukkathon. “I’d never built a sukkah or celebrated the holiday before,” she said. She and Herzlin hoped the activity would promote House bonding.
Herzlin is involved in both the Jewish and Hillel communities at Penn, as well as the Writers House. So it was “a very natural connection” to combine them through Sukkathon — although she too had never built a sukkah.
The idea behind the House sukkah is especially intriguing. Embracing words and literature, the team covered the hut’s walls in quotations, poems and various phrases.
Wattenbarger loved the idea of “a writing-oriented sukkah” and “how history and tradition and ideas … are largely transmitted through literary culture,” she said. “Writing creates the sukkah — writing creates us.”
Extending this idea, the phrase “I dwell in possibility,” a quotation from poet Emily Dickinson, is written all over the sukkah. Clothespins attach index cards with more quotations to one wall, and a chalkboard encourages interactive writing. Herzlin pointed out the corkboard opposite it, containing notecards — each with a single word or phrase — that can be rearranged like magnets.
“We really do invite people to make a poem up there,” Herzlin said. “It presents a lot of really interesting opportunities.”
So far, the sukkah’s mission has been successful. “People have just been coming by and writing on the walls,” Herzlin added. “We want people to feel comfortable making this their temporary literary dwelling.”
Herzlin plans to hold her class on the Holocaust, taught by English professor and Kelly Writers House Faculty Director Al Filreis, in the sukkah.
Given the popularity so far, both captains look forward to the next several days. “I’m excited to see what happens with this over the next week or so,” Wattenbarger said.
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