My Zaide, Sukkot and Food Insecurity

As a child at Sukkot I recall my beloved Zaide Shaya Yosef Z”L eating meals and sleeping in the simple Sukkah behind his house. Zaide was a pious Jew who left his Polish shtetl, Checiny, in order to bring his wife and children to a better life in Canada. Stories my mother tells about Checiny describe a home not much more secure than Zaide’s fragile Sukkah. Access to food, especially fresh produce, was limited. The family was often hungry and malnourished.

I wonder what Zaide thought and felt as he celebrated Z’man Simchateinu, the “season of our rejoicing,” and the harvest festival Chag Ha-Asif, the “festival of the ingathering,” in his sukkah. Did Sukkot also remind him of his family’s struggle to survive in Poland? Did he think of the times when he did not have the means to secure sufficient food for his family? Was he reassured that he had made the correct decision to bring stability to his family in a new country?

Was this Zaide’s way of bridging the gap between the historical and the agricultural observance of Sukkot and his present reality? How can we bring a modern contextual observance to our experience of Sukkot?

Fifty-two million Americans, or almost twice the population of Canada, live food insecure lives. They do not have access to adequate nutrition to meet their basic food needs due to a lack of financial resources. How can we make meaning of our sense of insecurity dwelling in temporary shelters during the Sukkot harvest festival? We can start by helping to reduce food insecurity experienced by one in six who live amongst us. Donate your surplus garden harvest, excess food, a portion of your groceries, or the harvest of your apple picking to a local food bank, meal site, or food pantry. Volunteer to bring and serve food at a meal site. Sukkot provides an ideal opportunity to rally as a community to reduce food insecurity in our midst. As we wave the Four Species or Arba’at Ha-Minim, this Sukkot, may we open our hearts represented by the Etrog, or citron, and be righteous as the Lulav, or date palm frond, in order to create a more just food system. Zaide would remind us of Leviticus 19:16: “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.

Pam Frydman-Roza is food justice coordinator of TIkkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee. This growing season its Surplus Garden Harvest project collected and donated over 5,000 pounds of organic produce to Milwaukee food banks, meal sites and food pantries.

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