My favourite place in the whole world is a sukkah, a temporary home of totally natural materials that’s the heart of Sukkot, the week-long Jewish autumn harvest festival. A sukkah could be put up anywhere outside: in a yard…
on a balcony…
or on a roof.
The walls—even if they’re flimsy —always go up first
and then the roof that’s made of foliage or cut branches—which is what makes it a sukkah.
There can be decorations inside.
Sukkot is a celebration of the senses—the fruits of the earth and of human hands—and also historical: over 3000 years ago my Jewish ancestors escaped slavery but had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the Promised Land. As they went, they built short-term shelters. We get a sense of what they went through and it seems they learned a lot about what life’s all about—that physical comfort isn’t everything and what counts is what’s inside you… that it’s when you are most weak that you can be most strong… To re-live the same experience, we re-create the same conditions, by building and living in a sukkah, and learn to cope with a bit of insecurity.
Sukkot is about openness and hospitality, with guests for meals and sleepovers in the sukkah.
In its awesome atmosphere, we have a sense of the blessings of the world and of each other. It’s a special time for celebrating relationships and we believe that the sense of warmth that comes from living in a sukkah is a taste of the world to come. Our hope is that one day everyone will be united and we’ll all live in the sukkah of shalom—under the covering of peace—in the enduring love of God.
As the sukkah shakes in the wind and we wonder whether it’ll hold out, we’re painfully aware of those who are forced to live in precarious situations—and our heart goes out to them: victims of disasters, the homeless, refugees and besieged people everywhere. That this is so is a condemnation of our civilisation.
This year—more than ever—the sukkah is no metaphor, no existential memory. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands—who knows how many, actually?—rowing boats, clinging to trains, trudging along roads… Like my Jewish ancestors, they’re fleeing oppressive and life-threatening regimes. They’re taking huge risks by stepping into the unknown, in search of their ‘Promised Land’. The echoes with the sukkah experience are absolutely deafening.
In many ways, my sukkah on the outside—with its old curtains for walls—
strikingly resembles the outside of some of the ‘tents’ at Calais…
but the similarities end there. There’s a huge contrast between the conditions inside my sukkah…
Source: Denis Charley/AFP
The main difference is that we Jews choose to live in a temporary, shaky sukkah and we know we have a home to go back to afterwards.
We know, too, that the real meaning of faith is compassion for the vulnerable, a striving towards justice for them and a commitment to share what we have.
I decided to eat and drink on £2 a day for 30 days, to express some level of empathy for and solidarity with asylum seekers, to contribute to my education about their situation, and to raise funds for ‘Separated Child’. If you’d like to contribute to ‘Separated Child’, you can donate through JustGiving here. Please gift-aid, if you’re a UK tax-payer. You don’t need to reveal the amount or your name on the public page.