Jewish Reflection

by Rabbi Alan Green

Sukkot comes immediately after the Jewish New Year celebrations of Rosh Hashanah (“the head of the year”) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  It’s a time of celebration, a time to enjoy delicious meals in one’s Sukkah—a temporary hut–with friends and family.

However, particularly here in Manitoba, the enjoyment of open- air dining in a Sukkah is tempered by its vulnerability—so that even at a time of joy, we are reminded that the world remains a terribly broken place.

As we celebrate the abundance of the season’s harvest on Sukkot, we remember how, throughout Canada, as well as in many other countries, this abundance is not available to all. The temporary nature of a Sukkah is the permanent reality of thousands of people, right here in Winnipeg.

Hunger is a symptom of poverty. The poor are often forced to make difficult choices. Bread or electricity? Breakfast or school supplies? Lunch or bus fare?  No one should be punished for being hungry, or poor. Hunger does not discriminate. Hungry people are children and grandparents, mothers and fathers, and married and single people. They are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. They are immigrants and native-born citizens. They are black, brown and white. They live in cities and small towns.

Jewish tradition teaches that we cannot turn a blind eye to those in need. It is written in the Babylonian Talmud, “At a time when the community is suffering, no one should say, ‘I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself.’”

When we invite guests into our Sukkot, we can be inspired by the story of Abraham and Sarah, who welcomed strangers into their tent, with food and drink.

We too, can take action. We can volunteer at a local charity, donate to a food pantry, advocate for raising the minimum wage, or build a garden, and donate part of the produce. These are just some initial possibilities.

The cry of the Shofar—the ram’s horn–awakens us on Rosh Hashanah.  But hunger and poverty are often hidden, and silent. On Sukkot, can we awaken to the presence of the poor and hungry among us, and be inspired to act?