Gathering Under the Sukkah of Sacred Community

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Gathering Under the

Sukkah of Sacred Community


For everything there is a season,

and a time for all things in the world.

Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 3:1 (traditionally read during Sukkot)

by Rabbi Shawn Zevit

It was such a blessing to share the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) again with all of you, and with Rabbi Yael, Rabbi Myriam, Claire Brunhild and our amazing volunteer team to reach new levels of meaning and inspiration. This month, with joy and commitment, we gather for the many celebrations of Sukkot. We welcome the wonderful diversity of new and prospective members exploring their spiritual and identity journeys with us.

I pray something has stirred in your soul, your awareness, your longing for the world that can be; what will spur you into action in the year ahead? I encourage you to get involved in Mishkan Shalom in new waysWe ask every member household to volunteer in our community. We want to define membership as more than an exchange of financial resources, though we must also be generous and committed with our resources as many of you have been, to be sustainable in the long run.

Our journey together has only begun. To stay truly creative and alive on the spiritually activist path is to keep re-finding, redefining and refining our Mishkan, our home, on different insights, new and old relationships, and the Divine constancy of change. As Rabbi Art Green writes in Seek My Face- Speak My Name, (pp.140-1)

 “We Jews (SZ: and partners and seekers) who are still in the process of reclaiming (or exploring) our Judaism and returning to tradition in one way or another often think we do so as a result of our own individual odysseys, life experiences, and struggles that seem to us entirely private and idiosyncratic. But as we identify again with Judaism, we begin to find ourselves living richly in the context of the Jewish people, past, present, and future…. Somewhere in the course of living in community, we come to see that the journey is not an isolated one anymore.”

So many people that I spoke with over the Yamim Noraim/High Holy Days expressed a shared longing for a communal model where the journey of the individual could join with others in prayer, mutual support and societal transformation. Our theme this year:  Ayin -Hayyim, Eyes on Life, speaks to this aspiration and commitment and is a life-long learning class Rabbi Yael and I will be offering this November. To take a page from Rabbis Staub and Alpert’s, Exploring Judaism (Reconstructionist Press, NY, 2000):

“When Kaplan (the innovator of a Reconstructionist Approach to Jewish Life) defined Judaism as the religion of ethical nationhood, he sought to express our conviction that the Jewish civilization is a means to greater ends-the fulfillment of the individual, the responsibility of individuals to treat others as reflections of the Divine image, and the responsibility of each community to seek global justice and peace amongst all communities. We need to do more than emphasize Jewish survival; we must also make Jewish civilization function in the service of these transcendent ends.”

The Festival of Sukkot invites us into a relationship with both time and space. We move into Sukkot, where we gather in vulnerability and celebration in an open-dwelling place- porous to the elements and welcoming to each other at the final harvest of the year. Through ushpizin, the tradition of welcoming in the spiritual presence of ancestors along with our family, friends and community, we reach across time connected with the rhythms of the earth and seasons and locate ourselves in space, albeit a temporary dwelling that reminds us of the impermanence and the preciousness of each moment and place.

Dr. Yonatan Mirvis, International Director of the Melton School in Jerusalem writes about the immersion in ideas and relationship to time and space at this time of year, “Sukkot is a unique festival in that it “falls” on us with almost no preparation. Yom Kippur is the “Shabbat Shabbaton”, the day in which time is most sanctified. On Sukkot, we are directed to live in a temporary dwelling (dirat arai) and make an evaluation of our use of space.  In living in this sukkah and engaging in hospitality in an area, which is far less secure and probably far smaller, we suddenly find a very different relationship to our utilization of space.  Every conversation can be heard from the outside and the “roof” is not hermetically closed from neighbors above. For seven days when we move from our permanent home into the sukkah we must be very careful about what we say, how we say it and how we behave within the confines of “home”.  There are no secrets in the sukkah.  This life adjustment becomes a paradigm for how we use space and how we should conduct ourselves in space….”


Shemini Atzeret is the last stop on the Festival route, where we are quiet and reflect on everything the holy days have brought to our attention - our relationships, community and the planet. We rejoice in our heritage at Simhat Torah, both in the particular of Jewish life and Torah itself, and in the universal truths and diversity of life around us.

Our individual and collective journeys through this past month invite and even compel us to explore what can be born anew as individuals and especially as a dwelling place of wholeness, engagement and justice, a true Mishkan Shalom. We leap off the springboard of the hagim into the world of our own families, friendships, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities. Our hands and hearts need to work on environmental and racial justice, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, immigration, Israel and Palestine, social and economic hardship- and the very democratic nature of our society.  The re-evaluating, re-imagining and renewing foci of the High Holy Days and of the joyful celebration and open-tent of Sukkot connect us to our inner and outer world and are foundational to our commitments in the year ahead.

I look forward to walking this path with you in the year ahead. I encourage you to invite others to walk with us as well in this New Year. Please feel free to reach out to me so we can continue this conversation in person.  Here's to a wonderful month of Jewish celebrations and spiritually strengthening ourselves, each other and our communities together.                           

Hag Sameah!

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