Sukkot Round-Up: Refugees Find Welcome In Sukkahs

Sukkot is a holiday “where Jews wrestle with and turn our awareness to our own fragility and to the impermanence of shelter,” Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, the director of education for community engagement at HIAS, told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. “There is a natural connection between the way we are supposed to observe this holiday and the stories of contemporary refugees, who are definitely people who are aware of their own fragility,” she explained.

This year, as part of the ongoing Jewish response to the global refugee crisis, Grant Meyer and HIAS created new visual resources for congregations and families to print and hang in their sukkahs. The visuals provided an educational component to the familiar sukkot tradition, a reminder that today, 65 million refugees and displaced people still wander the earth in search of a safe place to call home.

The Sukkot posters, which were also featured earlier this month in eJewishPhilanthropy, empowered the Jewish community to “invite” five such refugees into their sukkah as they recreated the huts in which our Israelite ancestors found refuge.

Thousands of people downloaded the resources to use in their sukkahs, including many members of the HIAS Welcome Campaign—the more than 200 U.S. synagogues and congregations that have joined together to support refugees.

One Welcome Campaign member, Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, enlisted “more than two dozen volunteers — both Jewish and non-Jewish, laypersons and design professionals,” to build an expansive, public refugee-themed sukkah displaying the HIAS posters, as described in a New York Jewish Week piece.

“Every year the sukkah at CBE creatively addresses an issue of the day — last year one wall was made of plants and the theme was protecting the earth — this year the sukkah was not only symbolic, but also huge,” the article explained.

In an interview, Rabbi Rachel Timoner, the synagogue’s rabbi, told Tablet Magazine, “given the current national conversation, I was thinking about the fact that a sukkah has a dual message. It represents safety and protection, but also vulnerability. It’s a temporary shelter—a place for gathering with friends and community and sharing food—but also evidence that all of us are vulnerable to the forces of the world and dependent on God’s mercy.”

CBE's sukkah was also highlighted as part of a nighlty news segment on Israel's Channel 1 News, in which HIAS Vice President for Community Engagement Rabbi Jennie Rosenn was also interviewed. The full clip is embedded at the top of this post. 

To learn more about the resources HIAS provides to Jewish communities as part of the collective response to the global refugee crisis, sign up to receive regular updates about our work.