There are more spiritually resonant symbols associated with the Festival of Sukkot than with any other major Jewish holiday. On Yom Kippur, the only visual marker is the special clothing many wear as symbols of teshuvah. On Passover, the redemptive symbol of matzah is joined by the visual and performative symbolism of the Seder. Shavuot has almost no visible reminders of the holiday other than the special liturgy. But Sukkot offers the 4 species (lulav, etrog, willows, and myrtle), each with their own multi-layered significance, as well as the sukkah itself, a symbolically powerful stage that encourages those celebrating the holiday to open their hearts, their minds and their homes to a transformative experience of the divine. During the 7 days of Sukkot, observant Jews live – or at least eat their meals – surrounded by the walls of a fragile hut with a roof covered in branches sparse enough to allow glimpses of the heavens and an expanded field of vision.
As the weather begins to cool, and as – at least in Israel – the rainy season draws near, Jews go outside to a structure far from the comfort and reassurance of the bricks, mortar, steel, and concrete that normally shelter them, literally and figuratively, from directly engaging with the outside world. During the rest of the year, even when Jews leave their homes to join together as a community, they usually gather in synagogues for prayer and study, in schools for learning and training, and in Jewish community centers for fun, leisure and public programs. In all of these communal institutions, as in our own homes, solid walls provide structure and safety, boundaries and reassurance. Those inside are protected from the outside elements and from those not like themselves, able to feel safe with their own kind. Seeking community and shelter within, these communal structures keep out those who, the people inside feel, may pose a danger – those with whom they feel less comfortable. Continue reading
During the holiday of Sukkot, it’s customary to invite honored guests into our homes and sukkot, the festival huts we build at this time of year. It’s a holiday that’s all about inclusion and bringing our friends, neighbors, and distinguished visitors in to our homes, and into these temporary shelters with us. These honored guests are known as ushpizin. You might even remember a cute Israeli movie about the trials and tribulations of a religious couple who think that their troublesome ushpizin are a test from heaven.
This year, we have a suggestion for some very special holiday guests for your sukkah. Invite politician Harvey Milk, activist and author Kate Bornstein, and writer Lesléa Newman into your sukkah — whether it’s at your home, your synagogue, your Jewish community center, or somewhere else.
We invite you to hang a poster of one of these Jewish heroes in your sukkah and let those who enter know that LGBT Jews have a home in your community.
Looking for more ideas about whom to invite into your sukkah this holiday?
- The website NeoHasid.org offers a different (and egalitarian!) take on the traditional text used to invite ushpizin into the sukkah.
- Lilith Magazine offers seven “Eco-Ushpizin” to join you.
- Plus, it’s traditional to invite one’s ancestors into the Sukkah, so consider making and hanging a family tree! InterfaithFamily.com has some great suggestions.
Plus, tell us who else you’re bringing into your sukkah with you. Who are the LGBT heroes in your life?