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Spread over all of us the Sukkah of shalom, salaam, paz, peace!

Can our Sukkot become not only symbols but peacemaking sanctuaries for both "adam" and "adamah"?

As we enter the Shmita / Sabbatical Year, we may be asking what its content might be. We can begin, just a few days before Rosh Hashanah, joining the several dozen Jewish organizations that will take part in the People’s Climate March in New York City, Sunday Septembr 21, beginning at 11:30 am.

Then on Rosh Hashanah (which can mean “New Year” or “Start of Transformation”), we might celebrate what the tradition sees as the birthday of the world, or of the human species (adam) as we emerged from Mother Earth (adamah). On Yom Kippur, we might enrich the Avodah service by prostrating ourselves on the grass of Mother Earth as our forebears did at the Temple in Jerusalem, murmuring to ourselves the sacred name of YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh by simply breathing, as the High Priest did on that day when he emerged from the Holy of Holies.

And on Sukkot, the Festival of fullness (Full Moon of the sabbatical/ seventh month, the harvest time of full abundance), we might draw on a powerful line from our evening prayers: “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.

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, those leafy, leaky, vulnerable huts, 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 abound, but for Jewcology let us focus on :

  • The quasi-military destruction of mountains, the creation of asthma epidemics, and the overheating of our planet for the sake of profit-hungry Big Coal.
  • The quasi-military 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.
  • The quasi-military forcefulness of global scorching that imposes on the Earth and on the human community – especially on the poor – the droughts that make for famine, turning poverty into hunger and hunger into starvation, and the superstorms and rising sea levels that flood our cities and our homes.

How do we make the sukkah into both a joyful affirmation of peace and a challenge to purveyors of such 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 isvulnerable. 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 and victims of this attack against the Earth — African-Americans, Hispanic immigrants, Appalachian poor whites — 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, in the USA; in Independence Park, in Jerusalem.There we could challenge the US government —

  • to end the heating and poisoning of our country and all Earth by Big Carbon,
  • and to seek peace and pursue it in a myriad other contexts – our cities and our neighbors overseas.

And so may we ourselves “spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom, salaam, paz, peace”!


Member since 2010
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (1983) and directs The Shalom Center https://theshalomcenter.org In 2014 he was honored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights with their first Lifetime Achievement Award as a “Human Rights Hero.” In 2015 he was named by The Forward one of the “most inspiring” American rabbis. Beginning in 1969 with writing the original Freedom Seder and continuing with his seminal work as editor of New Menorah magazine and author of Godwrestling (1978) and Seasons of Our Joy (1982), he has been a leader of the movement for Jewish political and spiritual renewal. Waskow pioneered in the development of Eco-Judaism in theology, liturgy, daily practice, and activism -- • through his books Seasons of Our Joy; Godwrestling – Round 2; Down-to-Earth Judaism; Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology; and Torah of the Earth: 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought; • as author of a pioneering essay on “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Elliot N. Dorff and Jonathan K. Crane, eds.; Oxford University Press, 2013); • through the Green Menorah organizing project of The Shalom Center; • through the Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth and a number of climate-focused public actions drawing on and transforming traditional liturgies for Tu B’Shvat, Passover/ Palm Sunday, Tisha B’Av, Sukkot, and Hanukkah; • as a candidate for the World Zionist Congress on the Green Zionist Alliance slate; • as a participant and speaker in the World Interfaith Summit on the Climate Crisis called by the Archbishop of Sweden in Uppsala in 2008; • as a founding member (2010-2013) of the stewardship committee of the Green Hevra (a network of Jewish environmental organizations); • as a member of the coordinating committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate; • and as a practitioner of nonviolent civil disobedience who has been arrested in climate protests in the US Capitol, at the White House, and has undertaken civil disobedience at Philadelphia conclaves of fracking corporate leaders.
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