Similar to many Jewish festivals, Sukkot commemorates a journey. A journey involving pain, suffering and struggle, but one where the goal justifies the means. We remember the 40 years spent in the desert, travelling to the Promised Land, an idealised safe haven of salvation and liberation. For 8 days, we ‘live’ in a hut, in stark contrast to our relatively luxurious homes, spending as much time as possible inside a safe but exposed environment. The Torah dictates that the sukkah must be stable and not sway in the wind. By the end of the festival, similar to the end of a camping trip (or a 3-night tiyul), modern Jews, many of whom are used to comfortable homes, can’t wait to return to their beds.
We’ve reached the tail end of press coverage of an ongoing humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, as the reality of an oppressive regime sinks in among civilians sacrificed for Dominic Raab’s holiday to a greek island. The media has lost interest in the daily struggle of women barred from education, punishment by amputation and enforced limitations on civil liberties. Our ancestors’ journey to the Promised Land is our foundation myth and one of the most painful periods in biblical Jewish history. To remember it, we are obliged to live in a stable structure although permitted to eat indoors if raining. The symbolism of a safe shelter reminds us of the difficult journeys made by our ancestors and is an annual reminder of the difficult journeys made today by refugees fleeing war zones across the world.
Without equating Britain (a country currently without petrol, let alone milk and honey) to the Promised land, many Afghan refugees regard Britain as an end goal, which they will use any means necessary to reach. I’m prone to seasickness on the most stable of ferries, so for me, a dangerous channel crossing, sometimes on inflatables akin to those available at Milton Abbey swimming pool, indicates desperation beyond belief. Living in a sukkah for a week can give us a taste of a different environment, but it doesn’t come close to the daily struggles of those living in Afghanistan and travelling to the UK.
On Sukkot, we need to do more than live in a sukkah for a week. The first stage is awareness and acknowledgement – despite falling levels of coverage, most British Jews are aware of the problem. We then move on to thinking and empathising with those whose struggles we can relate to. Ashkenazi British Jews’ great grandparents (like mine) landed on Britain’s shores in the late 19th/early 20th century – a refugee journey less physically dangerous but nevertheless to an unknown foreign land. As Post-Brexit Britain is less welcoming to refugees than ever – many feeling unwelcome and leaving, others forced out by Priti Patel’s pound shop ICE (Border Force) – the buck passes to the community to support those who are branded ‘illegal’ immigrants, simply by misfortune of geography.
At Veida, a motion was passed for Habo to be more involved and engaged with social and political issues. Those words and sentiments that the Habonim community holds need to become actions. Sukkot has been a time for us to reflect in the sukkah and have those with greater struggles in our thoughts. Next up is the time to act.
By Sol Abrahams, Muchan