Perhaps more than any other Jewish holiday, Sukkot lends itself to social activism. Its symbolism is drawn from the period of Jewish history when the People of the Book were refugees, fleeing slavery and crossing the desert in search of better lives for their children; in addition, the sukkah provides a daily reminder of the fragility of human life and the protection God gave the Jews while they were living in impermanent huts and searching for the Promised Land.
Repair the World, a nonprofit that inspires millennials to improve the world by engaging in “meaningful service experiences rooted in Jewish values, learning, and history,” according to its website, launched the #MySukkahStandsFor campaign to allow Jews who might not normally build a sukkah build a virtual one that reflects their social concerns.
“A lot of the work that we do is trying to figure out how to connect with people online to move them towards offline social action,” Laura Belinfante, the group’s director of digital campaigns, told The Jewish Week. “Someone came up with the idea of building a sukkah without walls. We know that a lot of our constituents don’t have either the outdoor space or the financial resources to build a sukkah,” she said, but she was pretty sure that “this idea that you can build a virtual one online to invite people in” and have it stand for an issue that’s important to you would be appealing.
“I think right now we’re in a moment where young Jews are really fighting for their values, and they’re trying to show other generations what we care about most, and we see this campaign as a manifestation of that,” she said.
To take part, participants go to a page on the Repair the World website (werepair.org/sukkot) where they can “build” their own virtual sukkah by entering their zip code and a phrase about what their sukkah stands for. They have the choice of opting for one of six preset options that cover voting, volunteering, racial justice, ending hunger, education as a human right and ending family detention — or writing their own.
Once a person fills out the form stating what his or her sukkah stands for, they get an email with resources to help them move their values into action. The participants’ contact information and interests are also entered into a database so they can be contacted about volunteer events in the future.
So far about 200 people have “built” virtual sukkahs. Most of them chose to have their sukkahs stand for one of the six options provided by Repair the World. About a dozen wrote in their own values in. Entries included: “Women’s rights and improved family support,” “Welcoming the stranger” (both from Plainview, L.I.), “Freedom from bondage of self!! Spiritual freedom!” (Manhattan), “Building welcoming community!” (Brooklyn), “Putting an end to hate of the other,” (New Brunswick, N.J.), “Ecological justice and reconciliation,” (Coquitlam, British Columbia), “Racial justice and education as a human right” (Los Angeles) and “Education as the greatest form of Tikkun Olam” (Middle City West, Pa.).
While Repair the World has been experimenting with online-only initiatives for some time, this program has received the most vibrant response, Belinfante said.
“Our generation is entirely online almost all of the time and I think nonprofits are sort of catching up in a sense of finding creative ways to use the internet for good,” she added. “You can show people what you care about just with the click of a button, and this is something the Jewish world hasn’t seen before.”