ARRIVING ON COLUMBUS DAY

Columbus Day ought to take on far greater significance this year. Coinciding with the first day of the festival of Sukkot, Columbus Day ought to bring with it the poignant message, that our celebration Sukkot this second Monday of October, marks more than the arrival of Columbus in America. When all is said and done, Sukkot 5780 has every right to serve as a reminder that when it comes to this country, we Jews have arrived as well.

I think that it is fair to say, that for the last two decades or so, there has been an increase in the building of sukkahs by Jews of all branches of Judaism. How ironic, that those very same coreligionists who feel no compulsion to participate in other aspects of Jewish life, find the time, expend the energy and come up with the necessary funds to construct a Sukkah. I extend a heartfelt Yasher Koach and look forward to seeing more and more sukkahs being put up with the passage of each year. Many of us can well remember that sukkahs were an anomaly in the vast majority of Jewish neighborhoods in this country. Now sukkahs are quite commonplace in American  cities with sizeable Jewish populations.

Back in the day, it was not at all unusual for Jews living in New York as well as in other cities and towns in the northeast, to go to the “mountains” for Pesach. Either because of family dynamics or time constraints, many a Jew would travel up to a kosher hotel in the Catskills for the duration of the festival. My mother’s aunt was typical. Upon reaching her golden years, it was quite evident that there would be neither a  seder nor a kosher for Passover kitchen in the Bronx homes of her three sons and their wives. She, therefore  made alternate arrangements at a nondescript kosher hotel in Sullivan  County, New York.  Nowadays, it’s not only Passover, when Jews uproot themselves. Nor is their destination the Catskills. Nowadays, observant Jews travel to Resort Hotels, located  both in this country as well as abroad (including Israel) for a Sukkot experience. Please know, that the mitzvah is dwelling in a Sukkah, not constructing one, or using one of the outside walls of your home to serve as part of the Sukkah. The mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah can be fulfilled anywhere, including Resort Hotels. And the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah at a Resort Hotel or similar is currently being fulfilled by many observant Jews who have “arrived.”

“Be a Jew in your home and a man outside it”. So adjured Yehudah Leib Gordon, a poster child of the Jewish Enlightenment. While it is true that the vast majority of American Jews never knew or heard of Yehudah Leib Gordon, they lived their lives as though they were his illustrious students. For decades, Judaism in this country was practiced privately and quietly. For decades, it was unthinkable for any Jew to be seen on the streets wearing a yarmulke. Judaism was not to be advertised. Previous generations defined themselves as “Americans of the Jewish faith.”

All that has changed and the reasons for that change, can be debated and discussed. For the most part, it is fair to say that Jews are much more comfortable and much more open about their Judaism. As praiseworthy as it is to see the increase in number of sukkahs being put up throughout this country, it is at the same time noteworthy, that Jews have no qualms whatsoever of inviting non-Jewish friends and neighbors to join them in the sukkah for a festival meal. Half a century ago, such an invitation would have been unfathomable. Half a century ago, American Jews had not yet “arrived.”

As we dwell in our sukkah this coming Monday, let us be aware that is Columbus Day as well. Let us be sensitive to the fact that over five centuries since Columbus arrived and that over these last five decades, so too did a good many American Jews.

SIT- IN

An etymologist I’m not. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the term “sit-in” dates back close to six decades. It was at a lunch counter in early 1960 at a Woolworths in Greensboro North Carolina where four African American college students remained seated despite the fact that they were refused service. Unbeknownst to those four college students, the very first sit-in involved the descendants of Abraham. It first took place thousands of years ago and continues until this very day. Unlike the sit-in of the four college students, our sit-in not in any way connected to race. Independent of the fact that it was mandated in the Torah, our sit -in seeks to address three inequalities.

The very first inequality is that of physical security. Unlike other people, neither hurricanes nor other acts of G-d serve as stark reminders for us that our houses offer absolutely nothing when it comes to physical security. For longer than we care to remember, Jewish houses have been blown down through the huffs and puffs of anti-Semitism. Stories abound of those who managed to survive Der  Fuhrer’s inferno, having the chutzpah to return to the house where they once lived. The Policja (Polish for Police) were at the scene lest the Zydzi (Jews) caused the occupants any trouble. For us, the Sukkah serves as a reminder that the sticks and stones of our houses will offer as much physical protection as the schach covering.

The second inequality is that we – and that means all of us – have yet to properly understand the divine word. “So that your generations will know that in Sukkot, I seated the Children of Israel when I brought them out of the land of Egypt,” explains the Torah (Leviticus 23:43). Absolutely no information exists that our ancestors who left Egypt dwelled in any structure other than tents! Sukkot is a geographic location. Sukkot was the first stop for our ancestors after they had miraculously crossed the sea after leaving Egypt. It would therefore make far more sense to understand that we are required by the Torah to locate a place once known as Sukkot and vacation there for seven days from the 15th of Tishrei until the 22nd of Tishrei! It may very well be that our dwelling in the Sukkah is a statement on our parts showing that the very same  rabbinic sages who were so truly divinely inspired and so unbelievably brilliant in interpreting the Torah, nevertheless had no way of foreseeing the travels and travails of their people. It’s one thing to dwell in a roofless hut in Sachse on Sukkot; it’s quite another thing to dwell in a roofless hut in Saskatoon on Sukkot.

The third inequality is a protest. With Yom Kippur mere days behind us, one would expect that the efficacy of the Day of Atonement to be fresh in our minds as well in HaShem’s heart. If we have been successful in having all of our sins expunged, then our relationship with our Maker ought to duplicate that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Just as they had free reign of pretty much every tree that grew from the ground, so too should be the case with us. The prerequisite of schach (that which grows from the ground but has been detached from the ground) ought to take on a powerful new understanding. By having a Sukkah sit-in, we are in effect demanding the same accommodation afforded to Adam and Eve! If those who are sin-free deserve paradisaical surroundings, then surely the Sukkah with its faux Garden of Eden covering serves the purpose.

Hopefully the Sukkah sit-n will grow in number over the years. Hopefully, the Sukkah sit – in will grow in understanding as well. Let it be a statement on our parts against the supposed physical security of our house, against the fact that our ancestors never dwelt in booths during their forty-year odyssey in the wilderness, against the fact that we fail to realize that dwelling in the Sukkah is our just dessert in that we are Adam and Eve redux.