If God seemed a grim judge to Jewish families who , he shows his “party side” by commanding seven days of joyous outdoor feasting, a holiday to be observed throughout the west Metro beginning sundown Wednesday. For some, though, this festival reminds them of the precariousness of our financial lives during the recession.
“Take…the fruit of choice trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.” (Leviticus 23:40, KJV), the charge reads.
The Feast of Tents, called Sukkot (pronounced "soo-coat"), is a celebration beneath temporary dwellings Jewish families construct in their own back yards, recalling the days when ancient Jews wandered for 40 years in the desert living in tents, and were led by the fire of God’s presence at night and by a cloud each day.
Each October, out of garages come the poles, lattice, bamboo canes and pipes to construct the stickman shack. In come the pumpkins, corn stalks, gourds, palm fronds, candles, and hanging fruit to decorate it with a harvest and hospitality theme.
will have a congregational sukkah at Minnehaha Parkway and 50th Street, according to board member Kathryn Klibanoff, with events in and around it all week.
Shir Tikvah invites the community to “Smores and Spirits in the Sukkah” on Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m., she said. “It will be a very festive dessert party.”
On this Jewish Thanksgiving, families remember to share the fruit of the harvest, rather than horde or rely on their home or possessions, affirming their trust in God.
Gourds and fruit are symbolically hung from the ceiling of most sukkahs, and a lemon-like “etrog” and three mandated branches (palm, willows and myrtle) take center stage for a ceremonial waving of the fruits of creation.
“When I put up our sukkah each year,” said Shir Tikvah member Luke Weisberg, “I make a direct connection to those who are unemployed or marginally employed and in danger of losing what they have.”
This year, due to a shaky economy, for him that threat is close to home. “I have a brother, cousins, nieces and nephews who are out of work. They could run out of money and become precariously housed.”
“There was a time when the Jewish people where purposely nomadic, when this was our lifestyle,” but today that’s not the case, said Weisberg.
As a consultant in workforce and neighborhood development, Weisberg has been involved in Heading Home Hennepin which is at the halfway mark of its 10-year plan to end homelessness in the county.
“The numbers this Fall are sobering,” he said, and it’s only partly due to the that has left many of the 600 families affected “precariously housed.”
“In the past,” Weisberg said, “there was more often a precipitating event or a dramatic behavioral issue you could point to” as the cause of homelessness. “But today, you don’t have to do anything wrong and no terrible event has to happen to you. Families’ stories are, ‘I’m running out of money. Period.’ It’s phenomenal.”
Suddenly, needing a makeshift home is all too conceivable, he said. “As we build the sukkah, I’m thinking, ‘This is where we go. This is what would happen.’”
“The associations with Sukkot are incredibly powerful,” said Shir Tikvah Rabbi Michael Adam Latz. “The first is memory” of transitory times in Israel’s history. “Two, the sukkah is a great metaphor for how to build a community. The walls are flexible to let the elements (and people) in and out.”
“Third and most important, the sukkah is a symbol of radical hospitality," he said. "It says that the door is always open and that with God there’s always enough."
“The sukkah reminds us that we all have enough, and we have even more when we’re together," Latz added. "There are people who really do suffer, but Sukkot reminds us that we have enough food and space and there’s always room at the table for yet another person, and that attitude, I think, is transformative.”