Build Sukkot, Not Walls-A Celebration-Protest by my Colleagues

From Haaretz, 10/9/17

Claiming that the president’s “anti-welcome” policies are antithetical to Jewish and American values, two dozen rabbis – men and women covered in prayer shawls – walked Monday morning from Central Park to Trump Tower, widely known as White House North. Once in front of the building, they quickly stretched out a small, symbolic sukkah and topped it with a wooden cover as required by tradition.

“Welcoming guests is an integral part of the holiday of Sukkot,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, a 1,800-member network of rabbis and cantors.

“President Trump’s executive orders and other policies break up families, turn refugees away from our shores – the very opposite of the sense of welcome that has defined our country’s history.”

CLICK HERE for the full article in Haaretz.

As the festival of Sukkot draws to a close, I wanted to highlight the way that the practice of hospitality which is central to its observance extends beyond the walls of our Sukkot.  Panim Hadashot-New Faces’ mission is to revitalize Shabbat and other forms of Jewish hospitality.  Our commitment to this act of lovingkindness also influences the way we regard the debate over immigration policies in the US.  Jews have benefited enormously from this country’s immigration laws in the past.  We also saw the calamity when immigration laws became too restrictive.  As leader of Panim  Hadashot, I strenuously object to the emergent policies of this administration.  I hope that the festival of Sukkot will help us to renew our resistance to these policies and to support approaches that are more generous and fair minded.

As we linger in the Sukkah over Shemini Atzeret, which begins this evening, may we reflect on ways we can add our voice to the advocates of decent and more immigration policies and to those working to secure the ability of DACA recipients to remain in the US without fear.  Hag Sameah,

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

 

Sukkot Message 2017

Sukkot is called in the liturgy “the season of our joy”-zman simchateinu. Honestly, it does not feel in the world as a season of joy. Our hearts go out to the devastated inhabitants of Puerto Rico and to the victims and their families of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. (Please continue to donate tzedaka to help them.) Everyday we are confronted with a leadership crisis we never could have imagined last year at Sukkot. And so many more events around the world challenge any sense of joy we could attain.
However, the traditions around Sukkot exhibit an understanding about how troubled our world is as well as the need to dig deeper for the joy that is at the heart of this festival. The “book” of this festival is Ecclesiastes-Kohelet which is easily one of the most dark books of the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s tone of weariness about the world seems completely out of synch with the description of the holiday as a period of joy.
Many have reflected about the asymmetry of reading Kohelet during Sukkot. My take on this pairing is that Sukkot asks us to find joy through simple gratitude while we acknowledge the realities of the world we live in. We find joy in the appreciation of shelter, of our enduring relationships of family and friends, of the joy of sharing our bounty with strangers and guests. The humbling act of building or eating in or even residing in a temporary booth-sukkah can bring to us an awareness of the basic conditions that enable us to live with gratitude. “Who is rich? Ben Zoma asks in Pirkei Avot, “those that are content with their portion.”
Sukkot is the festival of hospitality-hachnasat orchim. It is a great mitzvah to invite guests into the Sukkah. Our tradition considers hospitality the joy of doing a mitzvah-“simchah shel mitzvah.” I believe this relational dimension of Sukkot is key to understanding joy. We find joy in active connection with others. Sharing our table, our homes, our sukkot is a basic ingredient for joy.
Panim Hadashot-New Faces is an organization that is centered around Jewish hospitality practices. We view hospitality all year around as not only an way to personal joy, but a practice that improves the world and brings joy to others. I love Sukkot for this reason. It demands that we acknowledge the world around us, but that we not succumb to despair. We start building the joy from within most temporary structures and build outward from there.  Similarly, we build the joy within ourselves and extend it to others in an ever expanding circle.
I wish you a joyous festival and the strength to build resistance to despair from the difficulties of the world.
May you be worthy of a Sukkat Shalom, a Sukkah of peace,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg