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.
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.
This fall, 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 – two Jews and a Black who were murdered during “Mississippi Summer” in 1964 for working to make sure Blacks could register to vote.
- The sharecropper and eloquent organizer Fannie Lou Hamer, who led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that in the summer of 1964 brought national attention to the denial of the vote to Blacks in the Deep South.
- 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 crucial 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).
All these – and others -- could be invited as ushpizin into Share Sukkot – Grow the Vote.
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, Only by sharing them can we turn them into the home and bread of freedom .
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 who created a community of freedom. So they remind us to learn and share the sacred practice of empowering disempowered and marginal people.
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 early voting, helping voters make sure they have ID ready where it is required, providing drivers for those who are infirm, etc.
The Shalom Center stands ready to share with you the teachings that can make Share Sukkot – Grow the Vote into a powerful energizer of eco-social justice. If you write us at Sukkot@theshalomceneter.org, to describe your own plan for Share Sukkot –- Grow the Vote, we will respond.