Lessons from Sukkot

Lessons from Sukkot

Joanne Palmer

We’ve marveled over and over again about how themes recur in the Jewish Standard. We’re not sure how — they just seem to happen.

Sometimes it’s about stigma, or music, or theater, or community, or food, or Israel.

This week, we’re heard a great deal about the Holocaust. We don’t want to imply that at other times we forget about it. We don’t. It will take at least another generation before it becomes more of a background horror undergirding Jewish life instead of the looming nightmare it still is to the generations alive now.

But as anyone who has experienced a personal tragedy knows, there is no way to retain your sanity if you think about it all the time. You just can’t. You have to shove it down your memory hole; it will come back up by itself if you don’t consciously recall it often enough, and then, hey, presto! in its own time it’ll go away again.

The Holocaust, and its insistence that we have to imagine ourselves in it even as we understand that we cannot, is coming up in our communal imaginations very frequently now, as the stories in this week’s issue make clear.

It’s made me think about Sukkot; about wandering and vulnerability.

There’s always a balance between insecurity and complacency; genuine but eyes-open comfort is its pivot point.

There’s been a resurgence of antisemitism, particularly visible in the police guarding our shuls during these High Holy Days, that has made many people wonder if our comfort here is verging on complacency. There’s also the reassurance in the visibility of the police, with the message that we are wanted and protected here. But it’s a genuine tension.

This year, we mark the fragility of our existence at Sukkot, both as Jews and as people — it’s not as if life in general is ever secure for anybody.

But we also mark the beauty of the fruits that hang from our sukkot, the beauty of the sunlight and shadows that come through the schach and fall on our tables, the beauty of sharing meals with friends, the beauty of the laughter and memories and stories that we pass around along with the food.

There’s also a tension between fragility and joy. We have to remember the dangers that the world poses, we have to be vigilant about them — and we also should take advantage of the beauty that the world offers us.

Sukkot is liminal time. We’re going from place to place, from season to season, from risk to risk, and if we’re lucky, also from joy to joy.

Chag sameach.


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