Preparing for Sukkot
After ushering in the new year with Rosh Hashanah and beginning the yamim noraim, the ten days of awe culminating with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, five days later we begin and celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, the festival of booths. Our rabbis teach that the gates of repentance remain open during this time and thus the holiday season continues until Simchat Torah when we celebrate the conclusion of one Torah cycle and begin another.
One of the most significant reasons we celebrate Sukkot is that our ancestors, the Israelites, once wandered the desert in temporary dwellings, and therefore, we too should know what it is like to be in temporary dwellings, reconnecting with nature and the world around us. Our ancestors were without permanent dwellings during their forty years in the desert. It was a vulnerable time for our people, a period in which they did not know what each day would bring.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, Sukkot takes on new meaning for those affected as many were forced out of their permanent dwellings into temporary ones. In the Houston Jewish community alone, almost 70% of households suffered major damage to their homes. The places of gathering, the JCC buildings, synagogues, JFS and senior living facilities suffered millions and millions of dollars of damage, a significant portion of which will not be covered by insurance.
As horrible and vulnerable a time that it is for many affected by the hurricanes, the outpouring of support is exactly what is needed. In the immediate aftermath, thanks to efforts by Julie Waltzer, Shalom Austin Women’s Philanthropy, and Gil Levy and the Jewish Family Service team, we were able to collect and deliver much needed supplies to Houston. As Rabbi Dan Millner and I arrived at the JCC in Houston with the second full truck load, volunteers immediately unloaded and restocked supplies which would only last hours as the line of those in need wrapped around the entire JCC.
In partnership with Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), our community alone has raised close to $50,000 in support and JFNA has raised well over 8 million dollars as of a few weeks ago, mobilizing a North American effort. JFNA immediately provided on the ground personnel and resources and will continue to do so for as long as it is necessary.
Our amazing Jewish Family Service team is taking turns making trips to Houston JFS to provide support for an overwhelming caseload of need. We continue to coordinate volunteer efforts through JFS in Houston. We thank the many of you who have volunteered their time helping others in Houston with rebuilding efforts.
The Hebrew word, sukkah, is literally translated as a “shelter.” During this holiday season, I pray that we continue to find ways to provide sukkot shalom, shelters of peace for those in need, both within the Jewish community and for those who are not. May all who are affected find peace and wholeness during this difficult time. ■