Growing up, Sukkot was always my favorite time of year. Sitting in the Sukkah meant great food, time spent with family, and shivering happily under a blanket in a beautiful hut I’d helped build and decorate. When I arrived at Thomas Jefferson University to begin medical school, I quickly realized that Jewish observance would be difficult to balance with my new, insane academic schedule, but I never thought I’d have to forego sitting in a Sukkah. As it turned out, there was no such structure near our school.
Monica DiLorenzo and Rachel Turchin were as disappointed as I was. We decided to become co-presidents of the Jewish Student Association, and our first order of business would be to erect the first Jefferson Sukkah. We worked tirelessly over the summer to get the proper approval for our project, from measuring and vetting spaces to researching different sukkah kit options. Fortunately, the Activities Office administrators and many upper-level deans were receptive to the proposal and after several meetings, permission was granted. However, the not-so-minor problem of funding remained.
After setting up a fund through the Jewish Graduate Student Network of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, sending out announcement emails and handing out flyers, the donations began to trickle in. Concerned that we would not meet our goal in time, we approached one of our own TJU neuroscience professors, Dr. Michael Oshinsky, for help. An observant Jew himself, he was very excited and immediately began emailing colleagues and helping make connections with Jewish faculty, doctors at the university hospital, and even the dean of the medical college, Dr. Mark Tykocinski. Dr. Robert Den was particularly helpful in spreading the word. They developed a plan to raise the necessary funds, and all of a sudden the donations were pouring in. The faculty members even helped to select a panel Sukkah that would be beautiful and last for years to come. Without such support, the project would not have succeeded. We were elated when just a few short weeks later we had exceeded our fundraising goal. The first Jefferson Sukkah would be a reality.
The sukkah was ordered, delivered, and erected shortly thereafter, with the help of enthusiastic faculty and classmates, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Seeing everyone come together around our goal-achieved was heartwarming. Throughout the holiday, students and faculty came together to share meals and to learn. We even held our first annual Falafel in the Fort dinner, with over fifty people eating together and learning about the holiday of Sukkot.
It is our sincere hope that our sukkah will stand each Sukkot and bring the Jefferson Jewish community closer together for years to come.
Sarah Cohen (pictured at left) graduated from Brandeis University in 2011, and is currently a second year student at Jefferson Medical College. She is dedicated to achdut (unity among Jews), and loves making ritual observance comfortable and meaningful for all.
Monica DiLorenzo (pictured at right) is a 2007 graduate of Vassar College originally from upstate NY who is currently studying medicine at Jefferson Medical College. Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) inspires her daily.
Rachel Turchin (pictured center) is a 2008 graduate of the Joint program of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is a second year student at Jefferson Medical College, where she loves to work toward the growth of a vibrant Jewish community.
The Jewish Graduate Student Network, a program of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, serves the needs of Jewish graduate students across Philadelphia. With more than 1,000 students involved in programs every year, the Grad Network is the home away from home for Jewish graduate and professional students in the greater Philadelphia region.