It’s Sukkot, the time to give thanks for the fall harvest, when Jews around the world put up temporary structures at home and at their synagogues to remind them of the fragile dwelling places of our ancestors during their 40-year journey through the desert to the Promised Land.

These sukkot (called booths or huts) that we build are not like the tents we may take with us as we head out to the woods for a weekend camping trip.  These structures are open on at least one side and must be open at the top so you can see the stars through the spaces.  Yes, that means if it’s raining outside, you should be getting somewhat wet inside.  They are not permanent residences, just temporary structures to provide us with a space to gather to eat, sleep and share with others the bounty that we have while being remind of the fragility and temporariness of all we may possess.

Sukkot has always brought to my mind the immigrants of past and present day.  There is a common thread found in all immigrants, no matter what country they have left behind – they all left to find a better life for themselves and for their family – to find the Promised Land.  Always, when I would sit in our family’s sukkah built just feet away from our permanent home on our deck, I would inevitably find myself wondering how much strength and fortitude it takes for those who leave behind what they know.  The streets they grew up on, the friends they made, sometimes the language and the customs familiar to them are all relegated to a past life for them as they take what they can and head out on a path to what they dream will bring them a better life, a life of stability and promise for a future better than the one their prior life could provide.  We all have an ancestor who has done exactly this.  This is a natural experience for humankind – we want to give a stable life to our future generations.  Every land has had immigrants at some point in history come to its shores looking for a safe place to call home.  The United States is not unique in experiencing people wishing to join in the bounty of its land and build a permanent life.

At Sukkot, we are meant to welcome the ushpizin (Aramaic for “guests”) to share a meal with us.  Ritually, we call upon specific ancestors to be our exalted supernal guests (the patriarchs & matriarchs, the male and female leaders & prophets, followed by the royalty of our Jewish heritage) and it is said that these ushpizin will refuse to join in a sukkah that does not welcome the poor.  Each of the chosen guests we call upon represents our ancestors who were themselves uprooted from their home, who themselves were immigrants in some way.  If we are not welcoming to those who are poor and/or are wandering, they will not honor us with their blessing of presence.

As you sit and enjoy a great meal in a sukkah this week, take a moment to consider if you can honestly answer the exalted guests we invite – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joseph, David, Abigail and Esther – when they ask if you are welcoming to the poor, to the immigrant, to the one who is searching for a place to dwell.  May you be blessed to have the ushpizin say yes to you and grace your sukkah with their presence.  It means we are all blessed by you as well.

Published by jesschasen

Temple Emanuel Sisterhood - Past President 2019-2020 Temple Emanuel - Interim Executive Director

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