Sitting under the starry night sky in New Mexico, Dr. Stephanie Rosen gazed up at the full moon rising through the layer of schach gently covering her sukkah. It was their very own sukkah, just for her and her son, Ari. Outside, beyond the majestic mountain ranges in Santa Fe, a pandemic raged. But ensconced in her holiday hut, Stephanie felt G‑d’s embrace, safe and secure as they made kiddush, sanctifying the holiness of the day.

In many aspects of life, the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a first on many fronts. Locked down and short on readily available essentials, many have resorted to fending for themselves over these past months. In the early days of the pandemic, many bakery-goers found themselves becoming at-home pâtissiers and bread masters, with flour and yeast often depleted on store shelves in some areas.

If there’s a silver lining to this health crisis, it may be that so many have ventured past their comfort zones, learning new skills and developing long-forgotten talents.

Judaism, which for many was somewhat relegated to the synagogue and rabbis, now had to be brought home with the closure of synagogues around the world.

Rosen, a pathologist, celebrated Passover at home this year, not being able to attend the local Chabad seder as usual. “It was actually really nice,” she told Chabad.org. “I wasn’t sure how we would pull it together, but we did.” Celebrating with just her 16-year-old son for company, Rosen found the experience enjoyable, saying “it was something we’d never done before.”

Rosen wasn’t the most frequent shul-goer growing up in East Lansing, Mich. “We were ‘High Holiday Jews,’ ” she says, noting that after her bat mitzvah, she didn’t have much to do with Judaism any longer.

All that changed with their move to Santa Fe 13 years ago.

“Ari was then 3½, and I wanted him to learn about his heritage,” she says. Searching for a Hebrew school, she came across Rabbi Berel Levertov, co-director of Santa Fe Jewish Center-Chabad, who invited them to try Chabad’s Hebrew school.

“And we’ve been part of that community ever since,” Rosen says proudly.

Dr. Stephanie Rosen and her son, Ari
Dr. Stephanie Rosen and her son, Ari

‘We’ve Finally Come Full Circle’

Come the holiday of Sukkot, Rosen was in a bind. They would normally use Chabad’s public sukkah, but due to local health and safety measures, they wouldn’t be erecting a public one this year.

“We usually have a mobile sukkah to visit those who are unable to come to ours,” says Levertov, “but that as well had to be canceled.” Instead, the enterprising rabbi came up with an idea. If his community couldn’t come to his sukkah, he would help them build one of their very own.

Children at Chabad’s Kids’ Club brought home kosher miniature sukkahs, so holiday festivities could go on.
Children at Chabad’s Kids’ Club brought home kosher miniature sukkahs, so holiday festivities could go on.

Levertov feels that the mitzvah of sukkah is especially meaningful at a time like this. “In these frightening times, we enter into the sukkah, enveloped by its walls and roof; we feel its reassuring embrace—G‑d is our shelter and refuge.”

“I’d always wanted to have a sukkah of my own,” says Rosen, “but I didn’t know how, and Chabad’s was convenient.”

Levertov teamed up with his carpenter, Bob Whittet. Although not Jewish himself, Whittet is an expert sukkah-builder and felt passionately about the rabbi’s plan of action. Rounding off the project was Professor Stephen Hochberg, a longtime community member who, determined that everyone should have the opportunity to celebrate Sukkot, subsidized the costs of materials and labor.

“Sukkot is normally a big family event here,” says Hochberg, “and when I saw that it wouldn’t happen this year, I thought ‘we need to bring this to individual homes instead.’ ” He also saw to it that the children at Chabad’s Hochberg Kids’ Club would bring home a fully kosher miniature sukkah, so the festivities could go on.

“I was so excited that we’d finally have a sukkah of our own,” shares Rosen. “I called my 80-year-old mother to tell her that I erected the family’s first sukkah.”

Rosen’s mother was transported back to her own childhood, telling her daughter that she, in fact, was not the first. She recalled how her grandparents in Philadelphia in the 1940s would build a sukkah every year, reminiscing the happy family time shared over meals in the sukkah. Her daughter would be fulfilling a time-honored tradition.

As Rosen echoes, “we’ve finally come full circle.”