Sleeping in the Sukkah

I’ve never slept in a sukkah.

Growing up in New England, it was always too rainy, too cold, too windy, and my family, who had no problem camping in the summer, thought it would be miserable to try to sleep outside.

That’s not to say that we never had a sukkah. As a child, I remember hours spent cutting construction paper and nailing corn to the walls of the makeshift sukkah my Dad always pulled out of the basement. My mom would buy interestingly-shaped gourds and host the other kids in the neighborhood to help us decorate. My younger sister and I would explain all the important parts of the holiday to our friends, and we ate dinner in the sukkah whenever it wasn’t raining.

As I’ve gotten older, our sukkot festivities have shrunk. My dad’s back pain stops him from dragging the sukkah pieces from our basement, and the neighborhood kids are grown up. At college, I eat a few times in a giant sukkah with a huge number of folks from the Jewish community, and my chabadnik classmates walk around imploring us to shake the lulav and etrog.

I’ve also never faced hate.

I know it exists; I’ve seen it online and experienced homophobic microaggressions from people in my community who I know are trying their best, and who respond productively when I point them out. My family has always accepted my queer identity, and when I came out none of them were surprised. At Brandeis, the queer Jewish community thrives and my work at Keshet further affirms my comfort in holding both my Judaism and my queerness.

I’m not sure when sukkot was moved to my family’s back burner. It simply wasn’t the most exciting holiday. As a white, Jewish girl blessed to be born into an upper-middle-class, progressive, loving family I didn’t comprehend the idea of creating shelter for myself- it had always been provided to me.

It wasn’t until I started college and began queer activism work that I understood, even secondhand, how important sukkot’s affirmation that we can build our own shelter truly is. I’ve now watched my friends fight for their family’s acceptance, I’ve seen how self-assembled community, chosen family, and support systems serve to spread shelter over them, and I’ve watched those shelters crumble and be rebuilt.

The sukkah is a perfect representation of this shelter- transient in nature, self-built, adorned with decorations, and filled with loved ones.

Especially after the intensity of the Days of Awe, we need to remember our ability to build. Sukkot reminds us of the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert, but it also reminds us to find support in our own wandering.

This support does not have to be static; like the sukkah, it must be torn down and rebuilt, redecorated, left open to the elements and to passersby.

This sukkot, remember to do the work of building your metaphorical sukkah of support, welcoming, and shelter. Invite your loved ones into it decorate it and to spend time together.

I’ve never slept in a sukkah but each night I sleep soundly with the knowledge that my community supports and shelters me, and that I can and will continue to build and rebuild that shelter.

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