University of the Arts junior Paul Zilberman wrestled with a twisted mess of nylon fabric, frowning at the sukkah frame it was somehow supposed to cover.
Daniel Grodnitsky, the Chabad rabbi heading up the assembly in a U. of Arts courtyard, came to help him reorient the material, pointing at the wall covering he'd just put up a few feet down as an example.
Zilberman, an East Brunswick, N.J., acting major, shook his head in exasperation.
To be fair, this was his first-attempt at putting up a sukkah, while Grodnitsky had a lifetime of experience.
All across the region, the unusually balmy fall Sunday right after Yom Kippur presented the perfect time to prepare for the next holiday: the fall harvest festival of Sukkot.
It's "been declared national sukkah-building day," joked Center City resident Alan Rothenberg, president of Minyan Sulam Yaacov at the Gershman Y. He and his wife, Enid Krasner, assembled their hut that afternoon, less than a mile away.
With the last decorations in place, now it's time to commemorate the holiday by spending as much time as possible in the makeshift structure.
Rothenberg and Krasner participate in a modern-day take on the biblical practice of opening the sukkah to guests in an annual city sukkah tour: On a designated day during Sukkot, usually a Sunday, interested residents and synagogues specify a time frame when they'll open their sukkahs to the public.
"The idea is to see how people decorate their sukkahs and have a little nosh and fulfill the mitzvah of inviting guests into the sukkah," Rothenberg said. "It's amazingly low key and a lot of fun, too."
Rothenberg thinks that members of their minyan organized the first tour around 2000, and it became a program of the Center City Kehillah a few years after that.
With the reorganization of the regional Kehillot now under the newly named Jewish Learning Venture (formerly ACAJE-JOP), the event almost didn't happen this year.
"It just kind of got missed," Rothenberg said. When he found out that the Kehillah didn't plan to organize it anymore, he took it upon himself to coordinate a last-minute tour.
Seven sukkahs will be open for tours this Sunday afternoon, Oct. 16, compared with about twice as many last fall. Rothenberg said he'll lobby the Kehillah to reclaim ownership of the event next year. If that doesn't work, he said, at least he'll have time to start planning it earlier and "approach it with a little more ruach."