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Sukkot’s Lessons, Lost on Us?

It’s ironic that Rabbi Grossman sees Sukkot as an enjoyable holiday. In its essence, the holiday is meant to make us feel uncomfortable and challenge our sense of rootedness and complacency. Yes it might say in Scripture that you should feel a sense of happiness and perhaps socially for some that does happen, but Rabbi Grossman’s devar torah misses the historical essence of the holiday and skirts the bigger issue of “religion fatigue” that plagues Jews at this time of the year.

I would love to say that American Jews don’t observe Sukkot because of x, y, or z theological reason–at least then I could argue why there is a need for the focus on wandering that permeates the Sukkot holiday, with its mandate to dwell in temporary huts. But the truth of the matter is people don’t observe Sukkot beacuse they are tired and feel that they have to go back to their day jobs.


Simply put, most American Jews believe that they can only take off so many days before their “Jewish thing” becomes too big of a professional hindrance (or they have to forget about that one-week summer vacation they spend their whole work year looking forward to).

It’s a shame American Jews ignore Sukkot, because Sukkot has a great deal to teach a people that feels at home in America. Perhaps the most telling sign of just how rooted Jews feel in American life is the fact that they dominate the American real-estate market. We have gone from being a nomadic people whose home was nowhere and everywhere to being a fixture in American life.

Being a wandering people allowed us to develop strong survival skills and be sensitive to others who are less well-off. While we might have found a home in America, many others have not. Homelessness remains a problem in American life. Sukkot could be a helpful reminder to American Jews that there are those today who are still homeless, who do do not have a real roof over their heads.

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posted October 6, 2006 at 5:04 am

Rabbi Stern, Just a note of appreciation for making a further connection between tradition and present social cocerns. Homelessness has come into the spotlight in the city where I live and has become a means by which to measure the eficacy of our public leaders. In fact, homelessness has been turned into a significant issue in the current state election for governor. Because our circumstances as a people has changed, we have less “organic” means to keep us on track with traditional values of compassion, ethics, community, etc. Thank you for the reminder that our sense of security should be examined and not taken for granted and that we need to be mindful of those who exist in a state of vulnerability.

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Drew Kaplan

posted October 6, 2006 at 8:26 pm

I don’t think there’s just One Message of Sukkos. You have an interesting read of Rava’s proffering of the meaning of the holiday based on structural requirements of the sukkah, but the meaning in the Humash may not be the same…. Interesting message of yours, nevertheless.

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posted October 6, 2006 at 10:09 pm

Actually, why stop at Sukkot? Most American Jews are unaffiliated or minimally Reform and thus Sukkot is one of many Jewish holidays/rituals that they fail to observe. Most Jews have a global religious fatigue.

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Rachels gram-me

posted October 7, 2006 at 1:20 am

Thank you Teacher, I am a conservative Christian and I am learning so much about my faith through hearing about our shared faith. My love and understanding of our G-d is strengthened. So often people water down thier faith until there is little left of what was originally intended, where than is the purpose of the sacrifice, or even the celebration. It all becomes secular, which is what the world wants anyway. I pray for the peace and restoration of Israel and put my actions and votes where my prayers go. Yours with respect and fellowship Rachels, gram-me

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posted October 7, 2006 at 6:50 am

It looks like Sukkot has a lesser command in Leviticus 23:33-36, 1st and 8th day holy convocation-no laborious work (for those outside Eretz Yisrael,) than 23:39-40, those who are able to “gather in the crop of the land, you shall celebrate Hashem’s festival for a seven-day period …and you shall rejoice before hashem, your God, for a seven-day period. We have a lesser command BECAUSE we are homeless and exiled from the land!!

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posted October 7, 2006 at 5:46 pm

I question Anonymous’s Assertion that we are exiled from the land. as the State of Israel was declared in 1948, some of us CHOOSE to not live in Israel. I can say for example thatI was born jewish, but if I walk into a room of Orthodox jews, I am immediately pegged as an outsider, and Given a could shoulder. My feeling, is that Israel is gradually becoming like a Jewish Iran, a Modern Theocrasy(but that’s fior another post) As for Sukkot, when I can i try to have at least one meal when possible in a Sukkah…I’ve never built one myself, but at least in the NE part of the USA, we tend to get a good bit of rain those weeks, which can make it difficult to enjoy the Holiday.

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Richard B. Cook

posted October 7, 2006 at 9:51 pm

How thin has the Mitzvah of iviting others into your Sukah. Today homeless people moving into an urban Suckah, to partake of the bountiful sacrifice would get their next comfort from the city or county jail. I don’t know how ready the urban Jewis to personally confront a needy neighbor.

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T.C. McCloud

posted October 8, 2006 at 8:59 pm

Richard, “Today homeless people moving into an urban Suckah, to partake of the bountiful sacrifice would get their next comfort from the city or county jail. I don’t know how ready the urban Jewis to personally confront a needy neighbor.” Most of us in Urban areas, know that the Homeless have different reasons for their state, ranging from a missed job to drug use to mental illness. The reality is that because of this you really don’t know why people would come to your Sukkah uninvited, and if they were dangeroues, and one put onesself at risk then what? I know that my congregation Joined up with a group of other religious communities in baltimore that help out the homeless(Baltimore Interfaith Hospitality Network) and I have agreed to help during my congregation’s turn during our week of volunteering. Then again, when i was a kid, I used to go with my Mom to deliver Meals on Wheels. Ps. Richard, what is the URL for your homepage? nothing seems to come up when i click the link

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posted October 10, 2006 at 2:03 pm

I’d like to echo the first poster which stated a feeling of appreciation for connecting Sukkot to problems in modern society, homelessness, and the emotional struggle of American Jews in particular to connect to the deeper meanings of observance. How lucky I am to have resources such as these to learn and get different points of view!

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posted October 13, 2006 at 12:04 am

I just wanted to say that many Jews ARE celebrating Sukkot and the picture may not be as bleak as it seems to some. In fact, in my Reform congregation, we put up two huts, one sukkah outside and one inside. We put up two because we live in Alaska and often it is simply too cold to stay outside without harm. We decorated the sukkot with decorations made by the young school aged children of construction paper and recycled odds and ends. The children belong to a fun group called “Re-creation” in which they have recreation by learning about recycling and creating fun, decorative, and somtimes functional items through recycling a large variety of items. The items may be used right away such as their sukkah decorations or there is a table where they sell items they have made. I admit some of the items are quite gaudy, but people purchase them anyway to support the group. Anyway, I just wanted to say Sukkot is fully celebrated at our temple and I imagine that is the case at many many other temples as well.

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