I started out this week speaking about how much I love the holiday of Sukkot, how it has special meaning to my family and me. There are all of the sounds of kids running around hanging their flimsy paper chains, trying to hold the lulav and etrog in their tiny little hands, seeing their friends at temple, and enjoying themselves. On Monday, I also spoke about how on this festival we are supposed to be joyous. The Torah tells us to rejoice in this time and how sometimes we have a hard time recognizing our blessings and calling them out as such before moving on to the next thing. I truly love Sukkot but the events of the past 48 hours in our country have dampened my joy and caused me to consider two different symbols and what they mean for us tonight.
Had it been warmer tonight, we would have gathered together in our sukkah. While our sukkah is beautiful, it lacks one of the fundamental aspects of a halachic sukkah, it is held up by cement poles that are there year round. Don’t get me wrong, our Sukkah is beautiful and it fulfills the spirit of the holiday. But according to our sacred texts, it would need to be a lot flimsier than our current set up. The construction of the sukkah may only use one side of an already existing structure, the other 2.5 walls must be temporary. The fact that they are temporary is what gives this festival flavor. We need to know that the wind could blow it down or at least allow us to feel the coolness of the breeze. We have to see the stars at night through the top. We have to know that we are outside; at the whim of the season. The Sukkah contrasts so sharply with the structure of our homes. Our homes are safe and secure. The Sukkah is flimy and temporary and it is only when we come outside and dwell in this space that the wind is blowing and sometimes it is chilly.
How fitting that in this week of Sukkot, the news dragged us outside and it is sure chilly. This chill does not come from the conversation of who will be the next judge of the Supreme Court as much as how many women see themselves in the story of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. How many 16 year olds think that it is just part of being at a party that she will receive an unwanted touch or comment? How many young men get the message that if they want something, they take it? How many teens think that the only way to have a good time is to get drunk? Whatever happened to Dr. Ford happened to her. She did not want to be on that stand talking about her life in such a graphic way; in front of men who made it clear that they didn’t believe her. This week women are now judging whether they can share their own stories based on the reactions to Dr. Ford. We watched her speak, feeling her fear, for some reliving the pain of past experiences. This week we once again recognized the vulnerability that women and even more so transmen, transwomen, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks experience more than just one week a year.
Along with the tenuousness of the sukkah, we also talk about the symbolism of the lulav and etrog. The lulav and etrog take on a variety of meanings during Sukkot, but the one interpretation that speaks to me this year is the idea that each element of the lulav and etrog represent different body parts. The lulav itself, the palm, represents a spine, the etrog a heart, the willow the mouth and the myrtle an eye. The midrash goes further to say, “First, one must have an ayin tov, an eye for good. Judge others favorably, including Jews whose lifestyle is different from yours. Second, one should use one’s lips to speak to others, and about others, in ways that are kind. Third, one must be strong (have a backbone, as they say) to stand up and walk away when the conversation turns to speaking ill of others. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the only way that Jewish unity can be achieved is if every Jew can open his/her heart to others.”(1)
The unity of the lulav and etrog gives us the sense that when we recognize our fragility, what we depend on are God and also each other. I have been struggling for the past two days of how to offer comfort in this heart-wrenching moment. What I keep coming back to is the idea that we need each other to build and be a community that believes women. We need to be a place that says no matter who you are, we believe you. We need to have the courage it takes to not turn away from someone in pain. This is our responsibility to those who are hurting. Rabbi Feder, Rabbi Molly, Cantor Fox, and I are safe people. We believe you. Whenever you are ready to come outside and share your story of vulnerability, we will be there to hold you up. Our hearts are open to you. No one should have to feel alone in such pain.
Tonight, I’m going to invite everyone to rise together, hold on to the people around you, to prop you up. This is community. We believe you. No Matter what. I would like to offer this prayer for healing by Rabbi Karyn Kedar:
“There are thousands of people who have been retraumitzed by listening to national events. Memories of abuse, attack, harassment are entering our minds and dreams. People are reliving difficult high school and college days. We asked the patience of others to bear the pain for all those whose bruised and injured souls are aching. Let us create safe space, soothing and healing moments for all of us. Pain abounds. Blessings are abundant. Let us walk softly in each other’s company.”