Make the Sukkot Harvest Festival
Into a Time to Register & Celebrate New Voters
And Make its Values for the Poor, for Refugees, & for the Earth
A Guide to Voter Decisions
The Shalom Center is initiating a program called --
Share Sukkot: Grow the Vote
The Jewish Harvest festival of Sukkot this year begins the evening of Sunday, September 23, and ends the evening of Sunday, September 30. It comes five weeks before the crucial Congressional elections in November.
We are prepared to provide you with materials that apply the values of Sukkot to the issues that face us today, and to guide you to handbooks on effective voter registration.
Why? Because effective social change usually needs both outsider uprisings like mass marches, nonviolent civil disobedience, etc., and growing clout inside the electoral system – by voting.
We are suggesting that congregations, families, friends, and local organizations hold Share Sukkot parties to address the issues of planetary and neighborhood life and death that will arise in the election campaigns and that Sukkot speaks to.
Tax-exempt organizations like The Shalom Center, synagogues, and churches, etc., are not legally permitted as a body to support or oppose a political party or a candidate for office.
But at a “Share Sukkot” gathering, any organization can espouse the religious, spiritual, and ethical values that may distinguish candidates or parties from each other. Families with a sukkah, of course, could say what they like at Sukkah Parties that they host. So can members of a synagogue, church, etc, so long as it is clear they are not speaking for the organization. And helping people to get out the vote is absolutely legal for all organizations to do.
What does it mean to learn and share the sacred values that underlie Sukkot?
First of all, there is an ancient tradition that Sukkot celebrates the harvest of abundance and justice not for Jews alone but for all “the 70 nations of the world.” There is an ancient tradition to invite into the Sukkah guests – called ushpizin – from all these communities.
The Shalom Center has taken the first steps in creating Ushpizin posters that could be hung in your sukkah.
This fall, with these posters we could invite as ushpizin into the Sukkah and into Share Sukkot – Grow the Vote some great activists and spiritual leaders who have struggled for the right to vote:
- Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andy Goodman – one Black and two Jewish activists who were murdered during “Mississippi Freedom Summer” in 1964 for working to make sure Black people could register to vote.
- The sharecropper and eloquent organizer Fannie Lou Hamer, who led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and two organizers from SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) who in the summer of 1964 brought national attention to the denial of the vote to Black people in the Deep South. Bob Moses, one of SNCC’s best organizers, said of Chuck McDew, another: “He is a black by birth, a Jew by choice, and a revolutionary by necessity.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched side by side in the Selma March of 1965, which helped inspire the massive public demand to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- And the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which worked to shape the legal structure of the Voting Rights Act, had as key leaders A. Philip Randolph, founder and long-time leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a Black union, who from that base became a civil-rights organizer; Roy Wilkins, long-time leader of the NAACP; and Arnold Aronson, program director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC).
You can invite all these – and others -- as ushpizin into your sukkah for Share Sukkot – Grow the Vote. If you would like to see and download three of these posters for use in your “Share Sukkot/ Grow the Vote” effort, please click here.
At the same link you will find guides to Get Out the Vote activity in each state.
These three are the beginning of the usphizin posters. There will be more. And we invite you to send us your own nominees, with a photo of them and a brief (max 100 words) bio. Send them to <Sukkot@theshalomcenter.org>
(This photo of Rabbi Phyllis Berman and myself was taken at the Occupy Philadelphia encampment near City Hall in 2011. We were "waving lulav," the palm branch and other fruit and branches, in the seven directions of the world -- one of the powerful earthy rituals of Sukkot.)
What other values arise in the Sukkot festival?
The sukkah itself -- a fragile hut with a leafy, leaky roof ---is the house of the poor just as matzah is the bread of the poor, until we turn them into the home and bread of freedom by sharing them.
And the sukkah is open to our Mother Earth, reminding us to heal her from the wounds of modern Carbon Pharaohs.
These “homes of the homeless,” according to tradition, were the first homes of the Exodus band of runaway slaves – refugees -- who created a community of freedom. So they remind us to learn and share the sacred practice of empowering disempowered and marginal people -- especially refugees from despotic and violent power.
In our lives, that includes making sure that the poor, the disabled, the young, and the old get to vote. So Share Sukkot – Grow the Vote should include drawing on state and local laws for registration – where most possible voters get left behind – as well as early voting, helping voters make sure they have ID ready where it is required, providing drivers for those who are infirm, etc.
(1)A synagogue reaches out to pools of millennials (who tend to have good values but low voting patterns) from say, 18 to 23 in age – at nearby college campuses and similar places – to urge them to register, and provides congregants who have been trained as registrars. Invite the students to Sukkah parties where they themselves can be trained and can even be registered or guided and helped to register.
(2) A family or a friendship cluster invites people to a Sukkah party to hear some brief talks about how to connect the values of Sukkot (see above) with the issues of this year.
3) A synagogue or local Board of Rabbis or other Jewish group works with an interfaith/ multireligious organization to welcome people to Sukkah parties in a sukkah reachable by many communities, especially welcoming activists from Black, Latinx, and Native communities.
4), 5), 6), and many more as shaped by your own creativity.
The Shalom Center will share with you the teachings that can make Share Sukkot – Grow the Vote into a powerful energizer of eco-social justice. To access that material, please click here.
If you write us at Sukkot@theshalomceneter.org, to describe your own plan for Share Sukkot – Grow the Vote, we will respond. And we welcome hearing your own nominees for ushpizin, with photo and bio, at the same address.