Photo: The Kauffman family cat, Peanut, checks out the sukkah. This year she and neighborhood felines may be among the few visitors given the limitations of the pandemic.
BY GLORIA HAMMER
“Health, safety and common sense are paramount Jewish and rabbinic principles that always carry the day. As long as there is no immediate risk and the authorities say the air quality is sufficient, we will be in the sukkah!”
These are the words of Keith Berne. His thoughts coincide with the two other families profiled here that shed light on why Sukkot 2020 will be different from all others.
Keith Berne is a Re/Max Realty Broker.
Rosalie Berne is a senior director for Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Children: Areille, 27, and Avi, 25, who lives in Israel.
The Berne family has been building a sukkah since 1992 when they bought their first house in Cedar Hills.
Keith is quick to say that Sukkot is a Torah-commanded festival. It is commanded to be joyous. “From the day our first child was born, we wanted her to think Judaism was fun, and Sukkot was the perfect holiday,” he says. Keith’s father Frank helped until his passing in 2018 at 94 years old
When the Bernes moved back to Portland in 1989 after three years in Israel, they wanted to share Sukkot. Keith and Rosalie befriended many young Jews who had just moved here with new families. “In past years, we have had up to 25 people crammed into our 16- by 8-foot sukkah. That won’t happen this year! One of the many themes of the holiday is the fragility, uncertainty and insecurity of life, like the sukkah itself – this year, more than ever, in my lifetime,” Keith says.
The building and prep work will not be affected. The Torah commandment to have fun and to bring joy and light into the world is needed more than ever. But the Bernes won’t be jamming in 25 people; they will follow distance guidelines and let folks serve themselves. They will invite family and friends from around the world to join in on Zoom.
Keith regrets that he didn’t have everyone who ate a meal in his Sukkah over the decades sign the two by fours that hold it up. He says, “Sukkot is so meaningful, you feel connected to Jews around the world.”
Eric Kornblit is a Global Supply Chain Manager for Intel and board president of Congregation Kesser Israel.
Robin Kornblit is a benefit advisor for the State of Oregon at PERS.
Children: Daniel, 16, Wilson High School; Hannah, 13, Portland Jewish Academy.
“The holiday brings us close to the outdoors and the spiritual wilderness that Jews experienced in the desert thousands of years ago,” says Eric. “Sukkot brings us closer to our roots as nomadic tribes of herders where Hashem was ever present to us.”
They have built a Sukkah every year since they were married in 2002, first in Israel and now in Portland. Hannah often decorates the sukkah with drawings, and Daniel helps build the sukkah. Robin helps where needed and cooks the meals they eat in the sukkah.
“It is so special because of our ability to connect outside and see the stars at night,” says Hannah. “It is so beautiful.”
Eric does not believe online gatherings are a replacement for face-to-face interactions to create close connections among family and community members.
“For the first time since World War II, Jews are not able to gather and celebrate their traditions as we have in the past,” says Eric. He believes the challenge is to maintain our traditions and come out stronger once COVID-19 has run its course.
“For traditional Jews, our religious lives cannot be even close to normal without the physical ability to celebrate our traditions,” says Eric. “Online does not work.”
They will be limiting Sukkot to immediate family and maybe one or two guests with social distancing. Their family in Texas and Maryland, whom they haven’t seen in almost a year, won’t be able to travel to join them during this year’s pandemic.
Eric calls their Sukkah modest – it’s not large or extravagant – but he thinks the posters that the kids sometimes hang of musicians and athletes set it apart.
He says his family is easygoing and tries not to overreact to crises such as COVID and wildfires. “We need to be safe and take precautions. Challenges are opportunities to grow … in life not everything goes your way.”
Jason Kaufman is a vice president with US Bank.
Allison Kaufman is the Operations Director at B’nai B’rith Camp.
Daughters: Eliana, Sarina and Adena.
The Kaufman family has built a sukkah for 17 years. They take the commandment to dwell outside during Sukkot to heart. The weather doesn’t always cooperate, but when it isn’t raining, the family thinks it is fun to be in the sukkah and connect to the outside.
They live in Wilsonville with few Jewish neighbors, so it is also their way of outwardly showing their Judaism. Five years ago when they put up their sukkah after moving into a new home, they got a notice from the HOA that the building structure was not approved. They wrote the HOA that they were building it for religious purposes, and now they make sure to notify the HOA every year before building their sukkah.
Their sukkah is 8 by 12 feet – not a lot of room to spread out. In addition, the sukkah connects to their back door, which requires having people come through the house.
They will decide close to the holiday if they can have friends over. Being outside will help, but if the pandemic spread is greater in October, they will limit guests and invite people to join them virtually.
“G-d willing, we will be able to have guests,” says Jason.
It will be a far cry from last year when they hosted 20 people in their sukkah as part of Congregation Neveh Shalom’s Sukkah Hop.