London Zoo welcomed 150 guests to a sukkah for the first time in its nearly 200 year history on Monday.
Encouraging the crowd to enjoy the kosher breakfast on offer was ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) new CEO Matthew Gould, the former first Jewish British ambassador to Israel.
Gould said his team had invited guests from neighbouring communities, including South Hampstead, with whom they partnered for the unique event and the Saatchi, Western Marble Arch and West London Synagogues.
Speaking exclusively to Jewish News, Gould said he would “very much like this to be something that we do regularly and that we do similar things for other communities. I’m very keen that we should do an iftar for Ramadan and something for Diwali. I would like us to be welcoming to every community. It’s a big focus on making sure that every community in London feels that London Zoo is welcoming to them and they can come here very comfortably.”
Rabbi Shlomo Levin from South Hampstead Synagogue praised the “real sense of togetherness” that the event had created. “The fact that there can be a sukkah standing in London Zoo is saying something about the society in which we now live. There is an acceptance that we as a Jewish minority have the freedom to be able to be accepted in wider society and I can’t tell you how enthusiastic all the team here at London Zoo have been.”
“I think it’s just the most amazing idea,” said Sally Friend from Dennington Park Road Synagogue, attending with her daughter in law Suzanne Friend, a member of South Hampstead Synagogue. “It puts Succot on the map.”
“The idea of welcoming people is part of Succot,” says Rebbetzen Ilana Epstein of Western Marble Arch Synagogue. “People don’t always have a sukkah to go to, so putting it somewhere so obvious that anyone can go, I think is brilliant.
Jonathan Ison, communications and programmes manager at the United Synagogue said: “I’ve been to the zoo many times over the years and to be able to access kosher food this week whilst in a sukkah is really a fantastic experience. It’s wonderful and I hope the kosher food continues!”
Gila Sacks, a former work colleague of Gould and the daughter of the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, said she was “really delighted to hear that there was going to be a sukkah in the zoo for the first time. All the kids in our neighbourhood are very, very excited to come along and see it.”
Daniel Simmonds, ZSL’s animal operations manager said “for a Jewish zookeeper, of which I think I’m the only one, this is a momentous occasion. As a Jew to have Succot in London Zoo is one thing. But to be a Jewish zoo keeper with Succot in London Zoo is really special. It’s great.”
The sukkah is open until Friday 6 October to picnic and pray in, with guests able to spend the day exploring the historic conservation zoo and learning about its 14,000 animals. A strictly kosher pizza station and kosher snacks will also be available at the venue during the festival.
Entry to the sukkah is free with zoo entry. All tickets to London Zoo must be booked in advance. Visitors can book now at www.londonzoo.org/Sukkot
As an aside, Gould’s favourite animal ‘at the moment’ is a Blue Crested Laughing Thrush called Peanut. An endangered species hand reared at the zoo, much like the Zoo’s own new CEO, “she’s extremely friendly and always comes over to say hello”.
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