Sukkot Thoughts | Rabbi Arik Ascherman
What is our spiritual asif (harvest) this year? What is good about us, and about Israeli society? What have we accomplished?
Our spokesperson Yariv told me that here in Israel he grew up on the American seventies/eighties sitcom, “Happy Days.” Some of you may recall that the super cool character “Fonzie” could never get out the words “I was wrong,” and would uncharacteristically stutter if he had to do so. There are those of us who find it incredibly difficult to acknowledge fault in ourselves and/or in Israel. Even if we know in our hearts that something is seriously wrong, we would never wash our dirty laundry in public. It may have been difficult or impossible for us to get beyond the first few lines of the RHR Yom Kippur vidui (confession).
Others of us have the opposite challenge. Saying anything good about ourselves and/or Israel gets stuck in our throat.
Yesterday evening I was sitting with a committee from the “Gan HaIr” tent encampment planning for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). This year there will be a world wide movement of social justice movements marching on October 15th (On Shabbat, which will mean that we in RHR can’t participate.) Later in the week Sukkot “pilgrims” seeking justice in Jerusalem will arrive by foot from around Israel, recalling how pilgrims once came to the Temple on Sukkot seeking God and sustenance.
As we were thinking about the activities we would plan in Jerusalem, it was clear that there was a natural connection between Sukkot and the situation of those without decent housing solutions who remain in the tent encampments even after many of the summer’s tent protesters have gone home. Sukkot is also Khag HaAsif, the holiday celebrating the conclusion of the harvest. Just as the farmer of old who was relatively wealthy and satisfied after bringing in the harvest needed to dwell in the frail sukkah (makeshift shelter) to remember the frailty of life and his dependence on God’s protection, so those of us who live comfortably today need to remember the frailty of life. As we enjoy “camping out” in the sukkah for a week, or spending the summer in a tent encampment, we need to be reminded of Palestinian victims of home demolitions and those Israelis for whom our safety net has failed. It isn’t so fun to live in a sukkah or a tent all year round.
However, at this planning meeting I also suggested that we think about our spiritual harvest. What are the things we are proud of? What have we accomplished in the past year? Can we decorate our sukkah with some of these accomplishments?
This is certainly not the first time I have expressed these ideas, but this year I want to try something new. Just as we in RHR publish our Yom Kippur vidui every year, I want to start a list of what we can be proud of as Israelis.
If you didn’t yet read this year’s vidui, please do that first. Yom Kippur has passed, but to go straight to what we are proud of without being painfully honest about where we have been wrong is kind of like getting our paycheck without having worked at our job or being awarded a prize we didn’t earn. Some have no problem with that, but some of us find that deeply dissatisfying.
Ideally, it is our asif that will help us address our vidui. Our asif gives us the tools we need to deal with what we are less proud of, and reminds us of what is possible.
So here is the beginning of a list. I would be happy to hear from those of you with suggestions of what to add (And you are also invited to let me know what is missing from the vidui ):
- This summer’s tent protest. To paraphrase the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, we proved this summer that our souls are not yet sold to the golden calf of scorn. We Israelis still aspire to a better and more just Israel. At it’s height some polls showed 91% of Israelis supporting the protest. Future leaders of social justice movements were born, and not only those who were the visible leaders this summer. It has launched many initiatives and committees to translate the desire for more justice into policy.
- Another popular movement ended in a government decision to radically recalibrate the percentage of profits from offshore natural gas reserves going to the foreign corporations extracting the gas, versus the percentage going to Israelis. The majority will now stay in Israel, and there is even the possibility of a Norwegian style fund so that these profits from the country’s natural resources will be dedicated to Israeli social needs/
- Lands returned to Palestinian land owners in the South Hebron Hills. The removal of the settler Moshe Deutsch’s vineyard from the lands of the Hushiya family and the return of the Twamin valley to the Mor family after over ten years show that, even as the Occupation continues, there are people of conscience within the system. With the dedication of people like our legal team, we can work the system to achieve a modicum of justice.
- Israel’s free press. I am constantly amazed by the fact that Israel’s dedication to a free press allows reporters from around the world to report on all of our faults and wrongdoings. Here in Israel the mainstream press has a much wider range of opinions regularly expressed than in the press I grew up with in the U.S. My colleagues and I can regularly write columns saying exactly what we think, not to mention paid media.
- Many Israelis believe in listening to multiple voices. In addition to the free press, we see that in the right-wing educators who invite us to teach in their institutions, invitations to lead tours for the army, etc.
- Volunteers. The olive harvest season has just started. Every year since 2002 tens to hundreds of volunteers put their bodies on the line to protect Palestinians from settler violence. (Only a small percentage of settlers are directly violent, but that small percentage is plenty.) Every week Israelis volunteer for Ta’ayush and Machsom Watch and Yesh Din in the Occupied Territories, while others help fellow Israelis, guest workers and African refugees inside Israel. Israel has one of the most developed NGO sectors in the entire world. The good news is also that, since our 2006 High Court victory it is the army that takes care of most of the most potentially violent situations. However, the Rosh HaShana attacks on Ta’ayush volunteers and Palestinians remind us that some volunteers put themselves in physical danger, as well as give of their valuable time.
- Many anti-democratic legislative efforts have been killed, stalled or emptied of content. Many initiatives are still in the pipeline, but in many cases cooler heads among our political leadership act quietly after public displays by demagogues. These efforts to preserve Israeli democracy have been helped by across the board efforts from world Jewry.
- We have a beautiful country, and a growing green movement trying to protect it.
- Israeli Youth. We have wonderful youth in this country. I see it in the idealism of the youth movements and in the support that some of them give to the issues we champion. The well known midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabah 1:3) tells us that, before God gave us the Torah, God wanted a guarantor. Neither our patriarchs and matriarchs nor our prophets were sufficient, but God saw our children as worthy guarantors. If we teach them Torah (v’shinantem l’vaneikhem) they will help us fulfill Torah.
- Israeli Creativity-The recent awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Dan Shechtman is but one more reminder of the creativity, ingenuity and ability to think “out of the box” of the Israeli people.
- Polls show that a majority of Israelis still want peace and are prepared to give up a great deal to achieve peace, even if differences remain between us and the Palestinians as to what is necessary to achieve peace.
- Polls show that a strong majority of Israelis still support universal human rights in theory. Even if they do not always support our vision of human rights in practice, they aspire to be a moral nation.
- Most Israelis want interfaith understanding. We witnessed this year across the board condemnations of mosque burnings from the right as well as the left. We have countless interfaith initiatives in which Moslem, Jewish and Christian religious leaders and lay people for whom faith is a bridge, not a wall.
- There is a great desire by both secular and religious Israelis to learn Torah, better understand our Jewish tradition, and apply it to the moral issues of our day.
Ah, deadlines. I am way over mine. I know that in my haste I have not come even close to listing all of our spiritual asif. Please forgive me for what I have not included. Write in, so that we can add additional items on our website.
Eloheinu V’Eloei Kadmoneinu, Our God and God of our ancestors, may it be Your Will that we will use the gifts we have received from You so that next year our vidui will be shorter and the list of our asif longer.
What Will Be
Ushpizin –From Tent Encampments to Your Sukkah.
As many of prepare to dwell in the sukkah for a week, there are families still in tent encampents without housing solutions in Jerusalem and several other locations. They would appreciate invitations for a meal in a sukkah in your home or at a community event. This is also an opportunity to get to know who these people are and what their story is. Anybody who can invite a family to their home or synagogue or community center, please call:
- Dror (Kiryat Yovel): 050-6407211
- Vicky (Gan HaIr): 050-6407259.
- For Gan HaAtzmaut or encampments outside of Jerusalem, please call Arik (050-5607034) (Not on Shabbat or Khag)
During the holiday and after, you are always welcome to contribute food, equipment and/or funds to our Tzedakah Fund for Human Rights Victims.
At the moment, as long as most of the residents of the Jerusalem encampments are near to their children’s kindergartens and schools. However, Mayor Barkat is threatening to force all of the residents into one encampment. They will then need help to get their children to school. We want to be ready with a list of volunteers who can help drive children to and from school. Please call the RHR office, 02-6482757 / Dror-050-6407211.
The Week that Was
We ask forgiveness - Rabbi Ascherman: The vidui (recounting of our sins) during the High Holidays is intended to make us feel uncomfortable, to confront us with the wrongs we have done. Continue reading →
Human Rights in the OT
The State against the village of Dqeiqa - Although the village of Dqeiqa exists since the Ottoman period, the State of Israel decided to expel its residents claiming that the village cannot provide for itself as a “social and geographical entity.” Continue reading →
RHR Media Coverage
Arabnews: No letup in Israeli bellicosity
Khag Sameakh and Shabbat Shalom