Can we make our sukkot this fall not only into symbols of peace but into actual places of joyful activism for peace?
(To expand this Sukkat Shalom poster from 1984 into fullness, click on it.)
The last several weeks have been a time of sorrow and misery: the Gaza War, the deaths of deeply moving teachers (Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Leibel Fein), the explosion and exposure of police violence in Ferguson, Missouri. I want to address them. But first, a proposal for active hope, for hopeful activism:
Our evening prayers include a powerful line: “Spread over all of us a sukkah of Your peace.” What is a “sukkah”? It is a fragile hut, fragile in time and space. Its leafy, leaky roof must be open to the stars and the rain. It stands for only a week —– a festival week called by its name, Sukkot, to celebrate the harvest, to pray for the rain that will make the next harvest possible, and to implore God’s bounty not for Jews alone but for all the nations of the world. That week of fullness begins on the Full Moon after Yom Kippur.
This is our proposal for active hope, hopeful activism: On the Sunday and (Columbus Day holiday) Monday that fall during Sukkot this year — October 12 and 13 — let Jews invite into their sukkot, the actual people and the explicit intent of celebrating peace, welcoming all peoples, and healing the Earth.
That intent calls us to merge the joy of Sukkot – which is called “The Festival,” “the season of our joy” – with determination to end the militarization of our lives and the extreme, quasi-military, exploitation of our Earth.
Examples of this militarization:
- Attacks on civilians by both the official government of the State that calls itself “Jewish” and the de facto government of Gaza, which calls itself “Muslim.” Attacks that violate both Torah and Quran, that poison the ongoing bloodstream of both traditions. Though the impulse is the same, the results are vastly different —because the power differential is great. Hamas fires hundreds of rockets randomly at civilians, and almost no one dies. Netanyahu drops hundreds of bombs on Gaza, and more than 2,000 die –most of them civilians, many of them children and the aged.
- The militarization of local police forces and the subjugation of Black communities that we have suddenly “seen” for the first time in Ferguson, Missouri.
It’s no accident that the Pentagon sponsors this perversion by providing the police with the machinery of war. During the Vietnam War, a few ultra-leftists screamed, “Bring the war home!” It is the Pentagon that has done it, bringing into our own cities, towns, and borders the military mode the US used in Vietnam, Central America, Iraq. The Blacks challenge a police murder? Bring in the tanks! Hispanics are trying to escape worsening poverty and drug-gang violence by crossing the Rio Grande? Shoot them!
- The destruction of mountains, the creation of asthma epidemics, and the overheating of our planet for the sake of profit-hungry Big Coal.
- The fracking and poisoning of our water, the burning of towns along the railroad tracks, the despoiling of land along the pipelines, and the overheating of our planet for the sake of profit-hungry Big Oil.
How do we make the sukkah into both a joyful affirmation of peace and a challenge to purveyors of violence?
To begin with, why does the prayer not call for a Temple of peace, a Palace of peace, a Fortress of peace, even a House of peace — but instead for the most vulnerable of all dwellings, a Sukkah of peace? Precisely because it IS vulnerable. The sukkah is in itself a teaching that peace cannot be achieved with steel walls, lead bullets, fiery bombs –- but only with a sense of welcome, of compassion, and of shared vulnerability
In fact, as the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11 showed, despite all our efforts to storm Heaven by building towers to scrape the sky, we all actually do live in sukkot, vulnerable to attack unless we turn our enemies into friends.
But that implicit quality of the sukkah is not sufficient to challenge the explicit forces of destruction that we face.
So —- Jews who honor the traditions of Sukkot could invite those who are likeliest to be the targets of attack — African-Americans, Hispanic immigrants, Arab-Americans, Muslims — to join in sukkot on October 12 and 13 to sing, dance, tell each other stories of our different lives, pray, discuss the needs we all have for sustainable sustenance and equal justice, and make sure that we all vote in the elections that will come a few weeks later.
Besides hundreds of such peacemaking sukkot across our country and the world, perhaps a sukkah should be built during those days in Lafayette Park across from the White House. There we could challenge the US government —
- to end the militarization of our police,
- to end the mass incarceration of nonviolent Black Americans,
- to end the defunding of public schools that serve poor whites and Blacks,
- to end the heating and poisoning of our country and all Earth by Big Carbon,
- and to use its power and influence to insist — not merely urge — that Israel, Palestine, and other Arab nations build the political and cultural sukkot of peace.
And so may we ourselves “spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom, salaam, paz, peace”!