Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


Dwelling of the Heart

September 30, 2015
Posted by: Jeremy Russell, Communications Manager

During the playtime following Tot Shabbat, my daughter and her cousin, both of whom are two years old, called me into the kid-sized plastic house that Temple Israel keeps in its back patio area. As I ducked my 6-foot-frame through the door and wedged myself into the corner – much to their delight – I thought, “Hey, I wonder if this could be made to work as a sukkah?” Maybe it’s a stretch to imagine dwelling in the child-size house for seven days (not to mention the roofing issues), but if you can make a sukkah to look like the TARDIS, then why not made one from a kid’s playhouse? Anyhow, I found the notion pleasing to contemplate.

Of course, I’m only just starting to learn about Sukkot. In fact, of the main Jewish observances, it’s the one about which I’ve heard the least, and I imagine that’s true for a lot of other non-Jews, as well. This is a shame because the symbolism – the fragile dwellings, the invitation to the ushpizin and the general harvest-festival vibe – is joyous and would very much seem to lend itself to a broader audience. Rabbi Andrew Sacks breaks it down nicely in his essay on What We Can Learn from the Rich Symbolism of Sukkot:

The sukkah is a sign to open one’s hearts at this season. Just as its roof opens to the sky, so too may those celebrating Sukkot be open to the stranger, the other, and the guest who they do not see every day in their synagogues, in their JCCs, and in their homes. On the High Holidays, many synagogues may require tickets to enter the building. Most JCCs require membership or charge entry for events and programs. But all are welcome into the sukkah.

I particularly appreciate the welcoming-the-stranger aspect of Sukkot. Granted, as a spouse, I hardly qualify as a true outsider, but this openness strikes me as reflective of the community that I have come to know. Andrés Roemer, Consul General for Mexico in San Francisco, described his feelings about the Bay Area Jewish community this way: “I like the openness of the community here, the feeling I get when I walk into the JCC. The way all kinds of people and religions are welcome. This is the best of Judaism, to me. To be able to accept differences, and to respect the other.” It’s a sentiment with which I would heartily agree.

A Yom Kippur story from Congregation Beth Am, in which Rabbi Janet Marder invited the non-Jews to come forward for a blessing, illustrates how the community here works hard to be caring, welcoming and inclusive. I’ve still never visited a real sukkah, but I do feel that in a sense I’ve been invited into a very big one.

PHOTO: Manuscript Illustration of a Sukkah (Italy, 1374) via Wikimedia Commons.