Please enjoy this post written by Tajlei Levis, former student of Rabbi Gendler and Gendler Grapevine Project Executive Committee member.
In my memory, my first Sukkah has a golden glow: not just the afternoon light and dappled autumn leaves, but the warmth of discovering a Jewish community and new friends while participating in an ancient ritual.
It was 1981, and I had just started at Phillips Academy. I had never heard of the holiday of Sukkot, but when Rabbi Gendler, wearing a pumpkin-orange knitted kippa, explained the tradition of building a hut to commemorate the wandering of the Israelites in the desert, I joined other Jewish students and eagerly took up tools and twine.
In the midst of Andover’s Georgian brick campus, our Sukkah was a temporary structure of branches and corn stalk scach, decorated with gourds from the Gendlers’ garden. Students walking by the Underwood contemporary art complex were curious about what we were building next to the old maple tree. They asked questions and stayed to learn more. Rabbi Gendler taught everyone about the four species, how to shake the lulav in six directions. We shared songs and drank apple cider, and the simple hut was transformed into a home, a community. Rabbi Gendler’s joyous celebration of Sukkot resonated with timeless tradition, the seasons and the earth, and a present message: Welcome to our house.
I’m thrilled to learn that the holiday tradition continues at Andover, that right now, students are at work on a Sukkah in front of the commons.
Thank you Rabbi Gendler, for sharing your wisdom, joy and friendship.