I dreamed of a painted sukkah, of a “green” sukkah, of a harvest of knitted fruits and vegetables … I dreamed of a space in which community might happen, a space in which the work of helping to make peace might be discussed, planned, organized. I think my dream has come true.
The paint dried Monday night, the lacquer dried Tuesday, and the sukkah was erected on Wednesday – here’s the garden (before, and) after:
Time has been short, but our decorations include not only the harvest basket bursting with knitted fruit and vegetables,
but also a set of prayer flags – time has been short, but not so short that I could not paint, bead, glitter and mirror a set of banners for tikkun olam (repair of the world), shalom (peace), etrog and lulav (Sukkot’s principal symbols), sovlanot (tolerance), tzedek tzedek tirdof (“justice, justice shall you pursue”), and priestly blessings (with watching hamsa eyes):
(there are plenty more photos of the process here if you are interested).
Family dinners inaugurated the sukkah on Thursday and Friday nights, long-time neighbors shared a very festive Shabbat dinner with us on Friday. This afternoon community happened in our sukkah, peace was discussed and plans made to pursue it – we were honored by consecutive visits from groups from the local chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and the Torah study group of Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
To seriously try to live in the sukkah is to make contact with the meaning of Sukkot … to eat one’s daily meals in the sukkah (consistently carrying out the trays of mugs, plates, glasses, casseroles, for morning coffee on damp seats, lunch in the heat of day, dinner in the cool of evening – always battling mosquitos!), and to find other ways to spend time there (answering email, listening to the news, or squirrels battling for nuts, or even neighbors’ air conditioners), is to expose oneself (even in these small ways) to the basic risks of living beyond the usual comforts, to remind oneself of the blessings of shelter, food, protection from the elements. And also to revel in the company of loved ones, neighbors, and colleagues. We couldn’t agree more with Rob Eshman (editor of the LA Jewish Journal) that, like the annual Burning Man festival in the desert of Nevada, Sukkot and the sukkah is something that is best understood when experienced personally and fully (his essay can be read here).
So as we gazed on our painted etrogs, lulavs and pomegranates, and fondled the knitted versions, we experienced, in our own way, the sweet scent of etrog, the dry rattle of the waving lulav, and the challenges of wilderness and exposure. There’s a lot to be said for experience tent camping, a vivid imagination, and a few dreams.
Update Oct 1st, 2007
Embrace the Treyf: a sukkot reality check
With the waning excitement prompted by getting the painted sukkah up and the recent parade of visitors, there’s time for our us to balance the “radical joy” we’ve experienced in our sukkah with the larger world in which it is situated (our new acquaintance with Radical Torah – has certainly put a new spin on our thinking – there’s link on the sidebar now).
In these final days of Sukkot, we’ll use the sukkah as an opportunity to reflect on the bounty not afforded so many others less fortunate than our family. Having an entire week to observe the festival – in our own backyard, rather than a single, brief visit to Rodeph Shalom’s sukkah – affords us the chance to extend the work of the high holidays. We are persuaded by this approach to the work of Sukkot – the experience of the beauty of the etrog, and the continuation of the work of making one’s life beautiful (in the light of Torah) begun during the Days of Awe (described so eloquently in a recent essay in JudaicaJournal).
So in addition to the physically beautiful banners we already have up in the sukkah, we’ll probably be adding a couple of additional ones – simple, direct, Torah-beautiful banners, without paint, shine, glitter – that raise the issues of tikkun olam with greater specificity. We might start with one of the placards put into circulation by Jewish Women Watching, from their “Embrace the Treyf” campaign. These placards challenge us to evaluate our commitment to eliminate human rights violations,
or to ameliorate urban homelessness and hunger, juxtaposing the Jewish community’s habitatat-for-humanity projects in New Orleans with its silence regarding the displacement of the urban poor by gentrification, or Mitzvah Day soup kitchen duty with serious commitment to insuring a fair distribution of community resources that would enable the hungry to feed themselves.
Sharing our sukkah with these posters would not occur without mixed feelings. We appreciate the focus the JWW posters bring to the issue of our commitment to social justice issues. The Embrace the Treyf campaign seems a fair comment on some significant blind spots in the Jewish community’s approach to tikkun olam in general. But like others (here for instance, describing the campaign as “both appropriately insightful and incite-full”), we are concerned that the campaign will ultimately prove to be more divisive than productive because it denigrates or overlooks the valuable efforts of many to combat particular cases of human rights violations, racism, and urban poverty, such as the
“Noah’s Ark in Jerusalem” challenge to restrictions on the immigration of refugees of Darfur to Israel (image source here), or the notable work of Rabbi Michael Holzman of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia, whose work with the synagogue’s social action committee has included the creation of a congregation-funded savings fund program for women in a North Philadelphia homeless shelter. These examples do not negate the important message of the Kosher-Treyf campaign, but we wonder if tikkun olam and community would be better served by giving attention to some of the most progressive efforts to combat both racism and urban poverty at home, and human rights and global poverty abroad.
Cooking with the highest heat risks burning the food, depriving ourselves of an opportunity to dine together.
Oct 30th, 2007
Our sukkah is safely packed and stored, but it’s meaning continues to resonate in our lives. This morning I stumbled across an NIF article, “Sukkot and a ‘Precarious Roof’: The Shame of Arab Housing in Israel”. The ordeal of the Arab-Israeli A.R. family and their difficult choice – to destroy their home themselves rather than submit their children to the advance of Israeli bulldozers – is profoundly moving. For my family, Sukkot is not so distant a memory that we cannot (in the words of the author of the NIF essay),
give some thought to the thousands of Arab Israeli citizens whose homes are essentially as precarious and fragile as our temporary sukkot. The issue is not easy, rooted as it is in decades of Israeli government policy, uneasy relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs and cultural traditions that clash with modern planning and administration. But as Mr. A.R’s story reminds us, Israel’s more than one million Arab citizens live a reality quite different from that of their Jewish neighbors, a reality that threatens Israel’s long-term viability as a democratic state.