Many of us, even those of us who were raised in Jewish homes, did not grow up with a sukkah in our backyards. There was a sukkah built at the synagogue and we decorated it together, maybe had a festive meal, waved the lulav and etrog, and that was it. We checked the Sukkot box on the Jewish holiday list, and then moved on to leaf raking and leaf pile jumping, football and soccer games, Halloween …
For the past two years, in addition to our annual Little Minyan Sukkot Celebration with potluck and bonfire at the home of Bill and Randi, I have had the great pleasure (thanks to Debra Seltzer for gifting our kehilla with our very own sukkah from the Sukkah Project!) of building (with great help, of course), decorating, dwelling in, and maintaining (a significant chore on gusty, rainy, or otherwise inclement days) a sukkah throughout this delightful festival. This exercise has made me even more aware than usual of nature’s effect on us when we are living close to the Earth:
- the daily cycles (is dinner eaten while there is still natural light, or will it be entirely a candlelit affair?);
- the ability to view the moon at night or during the day or not at all due to heavy cloud cover (or the time it takes for cloud patterns to migrate from Upper Arlington to Bexley, as a friend and I, both sitting in our respective huts on Erev Sukkot, discovered as we enjoyed a phone conversation and I promised her that soon she would see the moon through the dissipating clouds … 15 minutes);
- the effects of a storm on a relatively fragile structure and on those who have nothing more than a fragile structure under which to seek refuge from rain or cold;
- the disappointment and work involved in repeatedly mending areas of skhakh (the roof of our sukkah, made of cuttings from living plants over bamboo poles that we have not yet learned how best to secure against strong winds from the east)
Of course, there are people who live close to the Earth all year … some choose or inherit this challenge (farmers, for example). Others inherit or are forced into these very difficult circumstances (the homeless, runaways, refugees prior to resettlement in a welcoming country). This is one of the most important lessons of Sukkot which we cannot lose amidst the joy and other meaningful traditions and teachings.
Sukkot is both a festival of joy ~ an appreciation of the abundance of the land and the gift of the harvest ~ and an opportunity for Jews to remind ourselves of the fragility of life and the abundance in our lives that is not shared beyond our neighborhoods and institutions. Coupled with the Yamim Nora’im, Sukkot can be seen as an uplifting send-off into the new year we have just begun with renewed focus on our highest selves. In this light, the sukkah is a tangible demonstration of our good fortune and our responsibility to share the abundance of our lives with those in need of our assistance. Sharing through:
- Tzedakah and other forms of material assistance;
- Sharing our voices and our bodies in showing up at demonstrations for justice and fairness and in protests against hatred and fear-mongering; and
- Advocating for the needs of those who don’t enjoy the privilege we have in our multicultural society.
These are the gifts that we can reap during the Sukkot harvest festival ~ the gifts of tikkun olam that start very close to home and radiate out into our cities, our nations, and throughout the communities of inhabitants of our fragile planet.
Shabbat Shalom and Moadim l’Simcha!