I recall building a sukkah with my daughters when they were younger, and they were just amazed at how this structure came into existence. They helped me fit the poles together and hang the fabric we purchased to decorate, drew pictures to beautify the space, and picked squash from our garden to hang from the roof. At the end of our building project, we sat in the small space and sang a melody they learned at summer camp – ufros aleynu sukat shlomeha. This line, taken from the hashkiveynu prayer in the evening service, asks God to spread a sheltering sukkah of peace over us in the night. As we sleep and are left most vulnerable, we let go of control and turn our protection over to the Source of Peace.
The next morning, I was excited to go out to have breakfast in our sukkah. Unfortunately, a storm had come in overnight and the sukkah was on its side. While my daughters were upset, I reminded them that the sukkah, just like the peace and safety we seek, is not only up to God. We play a part in it as well. While the work is challenging, we are obligated to forge ahead and continue to dwell in the sukkah, just as we are obligated to seek peace even when it seems like it might be just out of our reach. We rebuilt our sukkah, rehung the decorations, and finally sat down for our breakfast.
While there are times when peace may seem unachievable, our tradition reminds us that this is only temporary. When we awake in the morning we start anew and continue the work. We act in partnership with the Divine to build the peace that we aspire to dwell in. In the uncertainty of the darkness, it is easy to feel like we can just turn over ownership of the problems of the world to God. But, it is not always dark and we do know what work needs to happen to create peace. Just like our sukkah that can be blown down in a storm, the sukkat shalom in Israel and Palestine often teeters, only to be blown down when a new storm comes through. It is our work to rebuild it. J Street’s mission is to help us not lose sight of that goal, as we hold a vision of Israelis and Palestinians building a lasting peace that will weather the uncertainty of any darkness. We can start that sacred building work by recognizing our need to preserve dignity for all humans, end the practice of delegitimizing the other, and lean into the work of peace-making with good faith efforts and advocacy.
While it may be easier to believe we are powerless, we know from our tradition that lo bashamayim hi – the answer is not up in the heaven! It is in fact our obligation to work to build a sheltering sukkah of peace. Every Israeli and Palestinian deserves a structure to dwell in that permits, nurtures, and celebrates peace. And so, it is not enough to passively wait for violence, strife, and bloodshed to cease. Instead, it is our active obligation to challenge our leaders and demand that they work to preserve dignity, end violence, and build a more peaceful world. And, even if the shelter teeters in the storm, our job is to rebuild and continue the work. Only then can we truly partner with God to spread a sukkah of peace over us, and over the entire world that so desperately needs it.
May this Sukkot holiday remind us of our partnership with the Source of Peace as we seek to build a shelter of peace that can cover us, cover all of Israel and Palestine, and cover the entire world.
Rabbi James Greene is a 2008 graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and lives in Stafford Springs, CT. He currently serves as the President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.