One of the central mitzvot of the festival of Sukkot is called Ushpizin — the idea of welcoming guests into our sukkah. A tradition evolved that in each sukkah we symbolically welcome Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.
Why these 7? Because if we follow the biblical text – at one point in each of their lives they were refugees. Each had to leave his home in search of security and safety – due to famine and weather conditions, due to threat of violence, due to the promise of opportunity in a new land.
Not much has changed since biblical times and this Sukkot is an especially good time to focus on the needs of the most recent refugees and immigrants who have left their homes for pretty much the exact same reason. As a congregation we’ll have several opportunities in the coming month to both learn and act.
On the first evening of Sukkot, Wednesday, October 4 at 7:15 (6:45 if you’d like to have dinner in the sukkah) please join us to meet Nili Bresler, (niece of Bobby Bresler) who is involved with an organization in Israel called Natan. Nili grew up in Bridgeport, but has been living in Israel for many years. She heads Natan’s Communication and Training team and has a powerful story to tell about her work not only in Israel but most recently on the islands of Lesbos and Chios in Greece where Natan has been providing assistance to those who fled war torn Syria. They’re also involved in numerous other regions providing disaster relief in countries devastated by earthquakes like Nepal and Haiti.
Closer to home we have begun some initiatives with IICONN the International Institute of Connecticut. Several of our congregants have expressed an eagerness to volunteer and engage with this organization that provides services to refugees and immigrants being settled in the Bridgeport area. We met with Claudia Connor, the director of IICONN, and came away impressed by all they do and heartbroken that they can’t do more. She mentioned that last year they planned for 160 refugee families to be entering the Bridgeport area, but because of the current policies of our government they only had two in July and none in August.
At any time, but especially on the festival of Sukkot, how painful this is when we consider how little our nation is doing for the millions of refugees left vulnerable around the world. We can’t do it all – but to do so little is an affront to our country’s core values and Judaism’s central teachings.
We learned, however, that here is still plenty of work to do and partnerships are possible – both for interested individuals in the congregation (mentors, ESL tutors, legal help) as well as some group programs. If you are interested in being involved, please be in touch and stay tuned for more details.
And finally, I write this with images of the devastation that Hurricane Harvey brought to Houston and east Texas. The staggering numbers of evacuees and the misery and displacement caused by flooding hurts all of our hearts. As you read this a month later, we pray that dry land has returned to that region and are reminded that our ongoing financial contributions will still be needed to restore shattered lives.
Building a transitory Sukkah was meant to be more than just a fun week of camping out. The sukkah was a physical reminder of forces of nature and the vulnerability that is part of all life. Presumably after a week in the rain and the wind, the “haves” would count their blessings and come to realize that many in Gods world live in a precarious booth not just for seven days, but all year long.
May such solidarity awaken us to the multiple needs that exist globally and here at home and may the festival this year especially, inspire us to corrective actions.