Chag Sukkot Sameach, my friends.
We’ve had quite a lot of rain this week, and I was just thinking about how appropriate it is. As a group of us stood huddled under the skakh (roof) of our sukkah with the rain dripping in and the icing running and starting to pool on our cookies, I thought, “It should rain every year.”
Rain helps us reflect on the impermanence of structures and the fragility of life, which is exactly what we should do on this holiday. We escape the rain at other times of the year by hiding in our homes, watching from behind thick glass windows as the world gets drenched. When it gets under our skin and drips down our backs and squirms its way into our clothes, we experience rain in a whole new, uncomfortably intimate way. I was happy for a little discomfort if it helped me connect to my ancestors and the struggle that they lived through. The Israelites used to live in tents, so the least I can do is spend a couple days in one.
Then came the weather alerts, the storm watches, and the threat of the hurricane. I felt the guilt seeping in. What have I done? All I wanted was a little rain. I began thinking back to the disaster that was Hurricane Sandy three years ago, and I start reconsidering my newly formed relationship with rain. As I stood outside taking down the decorations from our sukkah, chilled to the bone, I came to resent the weather and the sudden harshness of the environment.
Even though the hurricane blew out to sea, enough gusty wind made its way up to New York to demolish our sukkah overnight. What started as this:
Became this overnight:
Fragility doesn’t just mean impermanent. What is fragile quickly snaps under too much pressure. If human life is as fragile as our flimsy sukkah (which by the way, was not so flimsy), then there are countless human lives that are also in this demolished state.
Brandon, blogger and photographer behind Humans of New York, captured the brokenness of human life in a haunting series of refugee photographs. These people are the embodiment of fragility- they have lost everything, fled from their homes, experienced unimaginable trials and pain, and don’t know what is going to happen from one day to the next.
“I worked as a waiter in Saudi Arabia for seven years to save money so that I could build a house in Syria. It only had two rooms and a bathroom, but for me it was paradise. We lived there for about twenty years. We did not want to leave. We have young children and no money to travel. But it became impossible to live. Our house was situated between the army and the opposition. Every day the army knocked on our door, and said: ‘Help us or we will kill you.’ They came to the restaurant where I worked and accused us of feeding the enemy. We hid in the cellar while they beat the manager. If the opposition managed to capture our village, we would also be killed. They would accuse us of collaborating with the army. We had no options. Minding our own business was not a choice. We left with nothing but our clothes.” (Lesvos, Greece)- Caption included with photo
“I’m working as an interpreter. I know what these people are going through. My family fled Afghanistan because the Taliban wanted to kill my father. I arrived in Greece fifteen years ago. We came across a river from Turkey. We tried to walk at night but we knew that we’d been caught because we kept seeing red lasers pointed at us. We saw the glow of night vision goggles through the trees. But nobody approached us, so we thought that maybe we had been mistaken, and we kept walking. Eventually we came upon a car along the road that had driven into a ditch. The lights were on and the doors were open. We thought somebody might be hurt inside, so everyone ran toward the car. But it was a trap. The police came swarming out of the trees. I’d been told many times that they’d beat us when they found us. But it was even worse than I imagined. They treated us like animals. They wore masks and gloves because they were afraid to even touch us. It was like we weren’t human.” (Kos, Greece) -Caption included with photo.
Life is not just fragile. Life is broken. Spending time in our sukkah, laughing, enjoying good food, and thinking about life is a mitzvah (commandment) and a wonderful way to spend Sukkot. But if we really open our eyes to fragility and our hearts to empathy, there is no way that we can stand by while the lives of others are destroyed by some inexplicable storm. For those of us who are lucky enough to not have to trudge through the storm on a daily basis, we need to extend an umbrella. Offer a rain coat. Open our homes. We need to do what little we can to somehow fix these glaring injustices.
The values of Sukkot are not archaic. They can help us fix the world we live in right now, today. I was deeply saddened by the stories that Brandon shared, so when he posted a fund to help the refugees, I knew immediately that I needed to contribute. I wish there was more I could do, and my heart aches for everyone affected. We need to be the stability in the storm, whether that means supporting each other emotionally, financially, or physically. Though we break easily, we are all stronger together.