Sukkot, A Festival For Inclusion


The Days of Awe may climax on Yom Kippur, but the evening shofar inaugurates a spirited and spiritual Oktoberfest unparalleled in the Jewish year. Immediately after breaking the fast, many started constructing sukkot, not only in backyards but also shoehorned with urban ingenuity into New York alleys and apartment terraces. We’re told that the days leading up to Sukkot are a time when Jewish people are preoccupied with mitzvot, preparing the sukkah, cooking meals, inviting guests, children scissoring and stringing decorations, buying lulavim and etrogim, and then the sweet peace of the holiday itself.

While we often pray for peace on a global level, peace is also elusive for too many on a personal level. Too many of us know someone who needs healing, in one way or another. While there’s a limit to the sukkah’s magic, to simply sit in the half-light of the sukkah is to feel a serenity, a transcendence, a peacefulness. Almost no one is alone in a sukkah.

No one should be alone on Sukkot, says the Torah, not our “servants … the orphan [nor] the widow.” This is a time to be cognizant of fragility.

Our community takes outreach and inclusion seriously, yet we have allowed the festival to become economically prohibitive for too many, excluding some from participation — often because of the high-priced etrogim sold by the community itself. One way to ease the strain for those barely making ends meet is to re-examine why etrogim often are sold at such steep prices — hardly conducive to inclusion — with the consent of our synagogues. Yes, the sales raise funds for the institution, but we wouldn’t be so nonchalant about Shabbat candles or a seder’s matzah sold at many times the natural price.

It is time for Jewish leaders to insist that the dealers selling through synagogues do more to make the holiday affordable, rather than link holiday essentials to fundraising, often from those who can least afford it.