Donna Berman, Hartford’s coolest rabbi and executive director of the city’s Charter Oak Cultural Center, recently built a sukkah on the grounds of the historic center. According to Jewish tradition, sukkot were built by the Israelites as they traveled through the desert — and once again when they settled in Canaan, as shelters during harvests.
Historically, the structures are flimsy, but what it lacks in strength, Charter Oak’s sukkah makes up for in beauty. The sheet-walls are covered with brightly painted pictures, including pleas that God bless Israel, Carmen, and Hartford U.S.A. It sits amid the center’s wildly successful community garden.
Rabbi Berman and others who helped build the sukkah know that at night, homeless people move in. Last Friday, the rabbi noticed someone had put carpeting on the ground within the structure. Later, she met the two men who were living there, and told them they were absolutely welcome to stay, but they had to remove their things during the day.
The structure would normally come down this week, but since people are living in it, the rabbi says she will leave it up. It offers scant warmth on evenings when temperatures dip into the 30s, but with the city’s shelters full to the bursting, at least it’s something.