Sustainable sukkah is a star at West Coast Green Conference

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Ten thousand people swarmed Fort Mason Center for the West Coast’s largest green building conference Oct. 1-3.

The greenest structure of all? A sukkah.

Rachelle Padgett, a green interior designer, arranges organic fruit in the sukkah. photo/stacey palevsky

The 12-by-16-foot structure on site at the annual West Coast Green Conference was built with sustainable lumber, salvaged and reclaimed fencing and lattice, hemp twine and branches found in compost piles around the city.

“Most everyone who came into the sukkah thought the idea was amazing,” said Ilana Gauss of EcoJews of the Bay and one of the coordinators of the sustainable sukkah.

Throughout the three-day conference, about 100 people visited the sustainable sukkah. Many ate lunch on the bamboo rug and sat on pillows on the sukkah floor, or munched on fruit donated by a local organic farm. Others added rosemary twigs to the sides of the sukkah. The roof had already been adorned with pine and eucalyptus branches.

One woman, Gauss recalled, was not Jewish but came to visit the sukkah several times. She worked on green building programs for the Environmental Protection Agency and “was really impressed that an impermanent structure made from sustainable materials is something Judaism considers to be important,” Gauss said.

The idea to build a sukkah on-site at a green building conference seemed logical, especially because the seven-day holiday overlapped with the conference.

Jeff Weinberger, a member of EcoJews of the Bay and a programmer for Cisco Systems, a sponsor of the conference, came up with the idea while talking to an employee of West Coast Green.

Gauss loved the idea, and soon began recruiting other people to get involved. Rachelle Padgett, who used to work for the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life but today works for West Coast Green, signed on to help.

Visitors to the sustainable sukkah learn about the connections between environmentalism and Judaism. photo/stacey palevsky

So did Rabbi Marv Goodman of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, who arranged for a sukkah kit to be donated for the project.

Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, who lives in Emeryville, agreed to come and speak about the significance of the lulav and etrog and to teach people how to shake it.

Zephira Derblich-Milea of Shalom Bayit led a ceremony that dedicated the sukkah as a “sukkat shalom,” or sheltered peace, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“We each put up a couple ribbons around the sukkah as way to symbolically create it as a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse,” Gauss said.

Seven volunteers worked together to construct the sukkah, which took about six hours to build.

The sukkah “is open to elements and so creates a closer relationship with nature,” Gauss said. “Everyone who came inside or who was involved in making it happen developed a better understanding of the connections between Judaism and environmentalism — and that’s really the main goal of EcoJews of the Bay.” 

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.