By Rabbi Scott Weiner,
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom Rabbinic Cabinet
Kippur just behind us, our thoughts turn now to the festival of
Sukkot (sometimes known as the Feast of Booths or
Tabernacles). Jewish tradition tells us that we should
begin building our sukkah (booth) at the first available moment
after Yom Kippur; the traditional thinking is that we're rushing
to the very next opportunity to complete a commandment, while at
the same time closing the door on Yom Kippur, and hence, God's
chance to reconsider which book we were inscribed in on Yom
Perhaps another explanation for why we begin building our
sukkah so close on the heels of Yom Kippur is because it so
accurately reflects the mood and goal of the holiday of Sukkot:
Each year we rebuild our booths and take them down a week
later, emulating two crucial moments in our history: the
temporary dwelling our ancestors built and took down at each
point on the long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and
the ramshackle huts in which our ancestors lived in their fields
at harvest-time. Like these other huts, the sukkot we build
today are only temporarily fixed in place, and serve to instill
within us a sense of movement and freedom.
It appears, however, that in Israel -- where you can find a
sukkah on nearly every porch, in every yard and at every
restaurant -- this message of movement and freedom is lost on
those making policy decisions for the occupied West Bank.
The "security fence," in reality a giant wall in many places
whose route has been unilaterally chosen by the Israeli
government, repeatedly restricts the movements of, and
determines the fate of, the Palestinians on the other
Sometimes movement within one village is interrupted by the
gargantuan structure. At other times, farmers are
separated from their crops, an irony during the agricultural
festival of Sukkot, to say the least. Even worse is the
fact that many Palestinians are prevented from entering Israel
to work, draining the Israeli economy and devastating
Palestinian families who rely on these jobs to feed their
Even within the walled off portions of the West Bank,
Palestinians are ever further restricted in their movement by
the ever-present IDF, road blocks and random road
closures. Just this week, the United Nations released a
report in which it stated that there are now 572 road blocks in
the West Bank, an increase of more than 50 percent in the last
two years -- at a time when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and
Defense Minister Ehud Barak have promised a reduction in such
The last and perhaps greatest restriction of movement is that
which occurs continuously in Gaza. While Israel likes to
portray the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 as a
washing of hands with Gaza, the reality is that Israel controls
all movement in and out of Gaza -- which defines Israel as an
"Occupying Power" according to international law.
As a result, all people, goods and services -- industrial
export/import, basic food supplies, medical equipment, pregnant
women and elderly cancer patients -- are allowed in or out of
the Gaza Strip at Israel's convenience, and in practice the
borders are opened at most a few days a month. Intermittently,
Israel still disrupts movement within the Strip as well.
Sukkot is a time when we are to recall our own journey toward
freedom and the wandering lives of our ancestors. Can we
in good conscience celebrate fully when others are denied their
freedom and freedom of movement? We can and should
celebrate, but we need to also take special note of what is
happening in the Occupied Territories while we celebrate.
As a child, I remember vividly having an empty chair at the
seder table for the Soviet Jews who did not have freedom or
freedom of movement either. Perhaps in each sukkah, we too
can leave an empty chair.
In Temple times, Sukkot was a time when Jews from the Land of
Israel and from the Diaspora would gather in Jerusalem to offer
up the choicest of gifts to God, the bounty of the
harvest. It was called pilgrimage -- sacred, holy
movement. This Sukkot, let us pray that the sanctity of
movement for all peoples is restored.
Suggestions for Sukkot:
- When you attend Sukkot gatherings, talk to family and
friends about the work of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom to organize
American Jews to change US foreign policy and invite them to join.
- It's customary to invite guests both literal and
metaphorical into our sukkahs, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David and, for some, seven female
prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Huldah,
Avigail. You might want to "invite" the spirits of those you
consider heroes of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation such as
Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli and Palestinian members of Combatants for
Peace, the activists in Israeli-Palestinian
Bereaved Families for Peace or the rabbis of Rabbis for Human Rights. Whose
spirits would like to have inhabit your sukkah? If you don't
build a sukkah, chose seven figures - one for every night of the
festival - and read something about each one at your dinner
table each night.
- Invite loved ones to a special evening dedicated to
discussing the spirit of Sukkot and the ideas of universal peace
and tikkun olam, repairing the world. You can download
Brit Tzedek materials to guide your conversation on the
- Learn about the restrictions the occupation places on daily
life for Palestinians in the occupied territories and discuss
them with your friends and family. A recent series of
articles on this topic by Stever Erlanger of the New York Times
is listed below.
Gaza’s Young at Play, Fields Can Be Deadly by Steve
Erlanger, New York Times, September 26, 2007
of Gaza Chokes Off Trade by Steve Erlanger, New York
Times, September 19, 2007
Bank Boys Dig a Living in Settler Trash by Steve Erlanger,
New York Times, September 2, 2007
Segregated Road in an Already Divided Land by Steve
Erlanger, New York Times, August 11,
If you would like to add to these ideas, please contact Rabbi
John Friedman, chair of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Rabbi Scott B. Weiner is a
national board member and serves on the Rabbinic Cabinet of Brit
Tzedek v'Shalom. He serves as the spiritual leader of the Hebrew
Tabernacle Congregation in New York City.
joining Hebrew Tabernacle, Rabbi Weiner spent four years as the
Rabbinic Intern at Manhattan's historic Central Synagogue where
his time was devoted to being Youth Director, teacher and a
Rabbi Weiner is member of the Central Conference of American
Rabbis, the New York Board of Rabbis, New York Area Reform
Rabbis, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Association of Reform
Zionists of America, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the ACLU,
the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Sierra
Club, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, the American
Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Nature
Conservancy and the Save Darfur Coalition. He is also a URJ Kutz
Camp Committee member, a member of the rabbinic cabinet of Jews
for Racial and Economic Justice, and a member of the clergy
advisory board of Concerned Clergy for Choice.
Rabbi Weiner co-founded the Running Rabbis, with his chevruta
(study) partner, Rabbi Benjamin David. The Running Rabbis
run marathons and other races to raise funds and awareness for
important charities and causes.
Rabbi Weiner holds a Bachelors of Arts in Judaic Studies from
the State University of New York at Albany. He earned his
M.A. in Hebrew Literature and was granted rabbinic ordination
from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
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