A Sukkot Message

Sukkot is a joyful holiday. But it is a holiday that commemorates insecurity: the insecurity of the Jewish people as they wandered for 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land, the insecurity of modern peoples who are expelled from their homeland for any number of reasons – racial/ethnic/religious persecution, political difference, hatred of one sort or another. Given this, how is this commemoration joyful? And how can we take part in a “joyful” celebration of insecurity when our neighbors, colleagues, friends, loved ones are currently living the epitome of insecurity as they have been swept up in a dehumanizing frenzy that is gripping our land?

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I offer some moving words that I found, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In reflecting on insecurity and the broader meaning of the holiday that we celebrate now, he stated:

“Insecurity begets fear, fear begets hate, hate begets violence, and violence eventually turns against its perpetrators.

The twenty-first century will one day be seen by historians as the Age of Insecurity. We, as Jews, are the world’s experts in insecurity, having lived with it for millennia. And the supreme response to insecurity is Sukkot, when we leave behind the safety of our houses and sit in sukkot mammash, in huts exposed to the elements. To be able to do so and still say, this is zeman simchatenu, our festival of joy, is the supreme achievement of faith, the ultimate antidote to fear.

Faith is the ability to rejoice in the midst of instability and change, travelling through the wilderness of time toward an unknown destination. Faith is not fear. Faith is not hate. Faith is not violence. These are vital truths, never more needed than now.”

When we stand in vigil in front of our structure commemorating insecurity, we face this large, permanent government structure that houses the source of insecurity for our immigrant family members, it is hard for me to find faith. I struggle, as all of us do, with the persistence of injustice, the pervasive denial by those in power of what makes our country great and who our country actually is. We have often told each other, during these last several dark months, that we are in a fight for the very soul of America. Every disparaging, racist, de-humanizing remark against immigrants and refugees, people of color, Muslims, we all know is an insult to our fathers, mothers, children, grandparents and to us. We are immigrants and refugees. This is who America is. And because this is who America is – a nation of immigrants, refugees, wanderers, nomads, the persecuted seeking freedom – we know what it is like to be insecure, we relate to this festival of impermanence and we will find our nation’s soul again, find our joy and find our faith. Faith is not fear. Faith is not hate. Faith is not violence. These are vital truths, never needed more than now.

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