Sukkot offers some incredible starting points for discussion. The Sukkot holiday begins tonight and lasts for a week. Among other things, core to Sukkot is the sukkah itself: something that provides shelter, but is temporary.
One topic the ISJL’s curriculum focuses on is the concept of Ushpizin. This is the custom of inviting our ancestors into our Sukkah. While the traditional Ushpizin guests are biblical characters, it sets a precedent for inviting people who add value to our life into our personal dwelling, to allow them to help shape it and shape us.
This got me thinking. There are so many people who have been involved in social action and who have led various social justice campaigns, so… as someone committed to social justice, who would I want to invite into my temporary dwelling to sit and have some coffee and cake with and learn.Which also made me wonder – maybe even more importantly than the question of who would I invite in, is the question what would we talk about while we were in there?
I started Googling Sukkot and Jewish social activists, and what I came across is the group Jewish Women Watching and their 2007 Sukkot campaign, “Treyfing Sukkot.” I’d be curious to hear what you think. Jewish Women Watching had an interesting approach to Sukkot: “Sukkot is a time when we step outside of our comfort zones. We need to go beyond ʻsafe causesʼ and challenge the status quo.”
The campaign included sukkah decorations that highlighted causes that were, at the time, “kosher,” i.e. “safe causes”; while other decorations listed causes that were “treyf” – more polarizing, less “safe.” These decorations presented a real challenge to the Jewish community and Jewish individuals. From a quick glance at their website, it doesn’t look as though Jewish Women Watching is still an active group. However, one line quoted in the press release that announced this campaign stood out to me.
“The sukkah is a fragile dwelling, and for it to be kosher, it must be open.”
If our sukkah is truly open, who would we invite in? And would we only explore the safe, kosher questions or the challenging, treyf ones?
Who would you add to the Ushpizin guest list? What might you want to talk with them about?
I’m thankful for the internet everyday. I’m thankful when it guides me to a new restaurant, tells me the score of the football game, and provides video of the Ohio University marching band playing their version of a new viral music video “The Fox” by Ylvis.
But despite the silly stuff, I was genuinely thankful for the internet this Rosh Hashanah. Trapped in my home due to some semi-serious plumbing problems and a particularly slow moving plumber, I turned to my trusty friend and companion to help me celebrate the holiday.
First, this post on Tablet inspired me to get my hands dirty and bake myself a challah. What better way to celebrate the new year than my stuffing my face all day with sweet sweet carbs? Joan Nathan led me through a tricky six part braid and helped me pull off the most beautiful Jewish cooking moment of my life.
Next, I met up with Congregation Beth Adam, a congregation out of Loveland, Ohio that leads innovative and inspirational services online each week at OurJewishCommunity.org. Dedicated to the celebration of Jewish holidays and life cycle events, Beth Adam approaches Judaism from a humanistic perspective. I was first introduced to Congregation Beth Adam by Rabbi Laura Baum when she presented at last year’s ISJL Education Conference. She gave us a tour of their synagogue, complete with stained glass windows representing the Big Bang and a ner tamid in the shape of a DNA double helix. I knew they would help distract me from the pipes clanging under my house and get me in the mood for the new year.
Rabbi Baum and Rabbi Robert Barr are talented clergy and are magically able to exude warmth and welcoming over the internet. Sweet congregants approached the camera to send good wishes to friends and family watching at home. Besides the fantastic sermons, which really challenge traditional Jewish high holiday liturgy, my favorite part was a chat-bar besides the video stream. Instead of feeling guilty kibitzing with friends in the pews, participants are encouraged to chat simultaneously about the service. I made new friends from all over the world, some with physical disabilities who couldn’t make it to services, some who lived too far way to be there (like me), and others who came specifically for the unique approach of Beth Adam (like me, too!).
I sat in front of the screen, eating my freshly baked challah, apples, and honey and had a sincere and authentic Rosh Hashanah experience. And after 4 hours of jetting and root cutting, the plumber gave me the clear to use the bathrooms in my own home again. A wonderful sign of good things to come in the new year!
What did you do for Rosh Hashanah this year? Would you consider joining an online community for services? Why or why not?
Rabbi Klaven will be in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Rabbi Dreffin will be in Longview, Texas.
In these communities, as in communities large and small throughout the world, Jewish people – and often their friends and neighbors – will come together to seek atonement, to reflect, and to prepare for a better year ahead.
Wherever you will be spending your holiday, we wish you a meaningful experience and a sense of community. May you be sealed in the Book of Life!
Where will you be for Yom Kippur?
(Photos of Vicksburg Confirmation Class and Longview’s Temple Emanu-El both from ISJL’s Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities.)