A sukkah rises in San Francisco, thanks to volunteer carpenters

“How many young Jews does it take to build a sukkah?” Rabbi Josh Marder jokingly asked a group of Habitat for Jewmanity volunteers on Oct. 12.

Habitat for Jewmanity brings together young Jews to build sukkahs for older Jewish couples that want to celebrate Sukkot in their own backyard — but are no longer capable of building the festive booth.

The program is a collaborative effort between the Jewish Study Network, a team of rabbis and educators in the Bay Area that includes Marder, and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Young Adults Division, for people in their 20s to early 40s.

The day before Sukkot began, a group from each of the federation’s regions (San Francisco, Sonoma, the Peninsula and Marin) went to homes in their respective areas and constructed the sukkahs. The San Francisco contingent of diverse 20-somethings built a structure at the home of an older couple that is active in the Jewish community, Marder said.

Fourteen volunteers met at the Sunset District home at 11 a.m. By 2 p.m. they’d completed the sukkah on the back porch — and that included decoration time with Marder’s two young children, ages 2 and 3.

The workers were a mixture of YAD and JSN volunteers who came to celebrate Sukkot and perform “the ultimate mitzvah,” said Andrea Skor, co-vice president of community for YAD.

Skor, who helped organize the event, said YAD was looking for more opportunities to help the local Jewish community — so it worked out perfectly when JSN reached out with its Habitat for Jewmanity program.

“Being on the board of YAD, we continuously hear that young adults are interested in doing more hands-on activities,” she said. “We hope that we can develop more community programming that allows people to give back by giving their time in a way that supports people in need.”

The next large event for YAD is the Latke Ball on Dec. 24 at Ruby Skye in San Francisco. Skor expects nearly 1,000 young adults to attend the annual fundraiser.

One volunteer new to the Bay Area, Jordon Szekely, said he had never before built a sukkah, but thought he’d give it a try when he heard about the program.

“I came because I just moved [from New York] and was looking to be busy on a weekend,” joked the San Francisco resident.

Volunteer Mira Freilich, who lives in San Francisco’s Mission District and works for an educational organization, said she helps build sukkahs every year.

The practice started in her childhood, and the tradition survived despite a sukkah constructed of PVC pipe blowing over on a windy day and tumbling onto her mother. From that day forward, the family used wood or other heavy materials.

Freilich said she participated in Habitat for Jewmanity this year because it was a good way to get involved.

The sukkah that JSN and YAD constructed was a solid structure made of wood. Volunteers hoisted wooden beams, placed screws in the corners and then decorated the structure with paper chains. While they worked, they socialized with new and old friends — and passed around a large plate of homemade cookies.