Center City Kehillah Expands Number of Sukkahs in Public Parks

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People building a sukkah at Julian Abele Park
Parents and children sukkah building at Julian Abele Park (Photos courtesy of Center City Kehillah)

The Center City Kehillah has built a sukkah at Julian Abele Park in Graduate Hospital for the last several years, but this year the organization plans to erect three additional sukkahs in public parks outside of Center City to better serve growing Jewish communities throughout Philadelphia.

New this year will be sukkahs at Cianfrani Park (Eighth and Fitzwater Streets) and Matthias Baldwin Park (19th and Callowhill). There will also be one in the Passyunk Square neighborhood, operated in partnership with the South Philadelphia Shtiebel.

Each location will host sukkah building (on the morning of Oct. 13), as well as a myriad of other activities throughout the week of Sukkot. Those events include but are not limited to Sukkot sing-alongs, potluck lunches, Shabbat dinners, board games under the stars, harvest-themed baked goods, Sukkot stories and crafts, improv workshops and Sukkot-themed puppet sing-alongs.

“As the Center City Jewish community has grown, there are more neighborhoods that I think would benefit from this kind of public space Judaism — and also more people who are open to it,” said Miriam Steinberg-Egeth, the director of Center City Kehillah.
Expanding the reach of the annual sukkah building program is something that’s been on Steinberg-Egeth’s mind for a while; this year, a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is allowing her to effectuate her vision.

The goal is for the sukkah-building projects, and the subsequent enjoyment of the sukkahs, to be impactful from both religious and secular perspectives. On one hand, the program offers the opportunity to have a uniquely Jewish experience in the most public of our contemporary urban spaces. At the same time, says Steinberg-Egeth, it’s just as much about outreach and “sharing this experience with your non-Jewish neighbors.”

To that end, each sukkah will have a sign on it that explains what it is and will have a link to Center City Kehillah’s website where there will be a schedule for all of the events happening throughout the week.

It’s especially important to Steinberg-Egeth for the sukkahs to be places where people can go to celebrate their Judaism in a public place.

“It hasn’t always been possible (to be Jewish in public), and now is maybe scarier in a different way than it was last year (post-Tree of Life and post-Poway),” she added. “But it’s important to be able to sit in a public space and say, in both a temporary but also claiming kind of way, ‘I can be Jewish here.’”

There are several other organizations around town hosting sukkah-building gatherings and other sukkah-related activities. In other words, the last thing Steinberg-Egeth wants to do is to claim that she’s invented this idea. In fact, she helped create an online map last year of all the sukkot-related activities in the area to help folks find the sukkah-building cooperative nearest them.

Still, Steinberg-Egeth is keen on emphasizing that what Center City Kehillah is doing this year is just a little bit different.

“What is unique about what Kehillah is doing is that we’re doing it in non-organizational spaces,” she said, “which allows what we’re doing to be a little more tied into where you live … like a backyard sukkah for people who live in the city and, so, may not have backyards.”

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