Sukkat Shalom: Building a Sukkah of Peace
By Jessica Rosenblum, Assistant Director

"As when we plant so when we reap... Help us to see that no work truly prospers unless it bring blessing to other lives, and no gain truly enriches if it adds not to the happiness of others.  Grant that we may never seek to dispossess others of what they have planted, nor build our joy on the misfortune of our fellows.  Help us so to live that when we shall have gathered our final harvest, many shall rise up and call us blessed." (Union Prayer Book, adapted)

The transition from Yom Kippur to Sukkot is as pronounced as the first cold snap following a long summer. As the new year turns, the solemn and often solitary reckonings of Yom Kippur give way to the communal celebration of Sukkot, the harvest holiday.  Alternatively known as Chag HaAsif (the "Festival of Ingathering"), Sukkot marks not only the ingathering of crops, but of community as well, as Jews customarily build sukkahs, or booths, where they welcome family and friends. In many prayers, the sukkah is a symbol of protection, peace and openness.
 
Sukkot, which begins this Wednesday night and lasts for seven days, literally means "booths" or "The Festival of Booths," as symbolized by the building of the sukkah. The sukkah commemorates both the temporary dwellings in which the Children of Israel lived during the forty years when they wandered in the desert and the transient structures farmers built during the harvest to remain closer to their fields. Sukkahs (or sukkot, Hebrew plural) are intentionally constructed as temporary dwellings. The roof must be made of natural materials and be sparse enough to allow for both rain fall and the sight of stars. The shelter and protection offered by the sukkah lies in its capacity to reduce our reliance on promises of permanence, on those partial solutions that would pose as the whole. Sukkot moves us to turn our eyes to the stars and ask "Where is the true source of my protection?" It turns our gaze toward gratitude and hospitality, love, faith and connection that offer abiding sustenance.
 
Many people would like to believe that they can construct physical structures that will create permanent and complete protection for themselves and that will shield them from all outside elements. We see this reflected in the attitudes and actions of many Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. Let us learn from the holiday of Sukkot that ultimately we all share the same sky - the rain that falls into the sukkah and the stars that shine above it know no national borders. This holiday is a reminder to us that the only way to create safe structures is to create open structures - structures that welcome dialogue and mutual recognition. These structures may sway in the wind and when sitting within them, we might experience a sense of vulnerability but ultimately they are the ones we must choose to live within if we are ever to achieve true peace and security.

In the words of the evening prayer Hashkivenu: HaPorais sukkat shalom alaynu, v'al kol amo Yisrael, v'al Yerushalayim ("May God stretch out a sukkah of peace over us, over all Israel and over Jerusalem.")

Suggestions for Sukkot:

1. When you attend Sukkot activities, tell family, friends and acquaintances about the Open Letter and ask them to sign it, by going to http://openletter.btvshalom.org/. If you would like to gather signatures for the Open Letter on petitions or fliers, request them by emailing info@btvshalom.org.

2. Have a discussion about how the concepts of security and vulnerability as they relate to Sukkot pertain to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

3. Make decorations for your sukkah that spread the message of peace and reconciliation.

4. There is a custom of inviting "guests" into the sukkah. The traditional guests are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David and some also invite Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Huldah, Avigail (seven women prophets). Be creative and come up with seven heroes of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation whose spirits you would like to invite into your sukkah. Even if you don't have a sukkah you can still chose seven characters - one for every night of Sukkot - and read something about each one every night at your dinner table.

If you would like to add to these ideas, please contact the Brit Tzedek Religious Affairs Committee by emailing rac@btvshalom.org.

To sign the Open Letter from American Jews to the Next President, click on http://openletter.btvshalom.org/.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Ste 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206
info@btvshalom.org
http://www.btvshalom.org

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