Building a sukkat shalom

By Joshua Yudkin

Five days after Yom Kippur, I remember walking around my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, and admiring innovative sukkah installations around campus that were designed by talented architects from across the nation. The idea of building a fragile and temporary dwelling that was yet strong enough to withstand and protect its inhabitants from the unpredictable weather was a daunting task. It was a competition, an art installation and a public celebration of one of the beautiful gifts our tradition has to offer.

The allure and magic of our Jewish tradition offer transcended our community and engaged some of the brightest contemporary minds to reimagine a sukkah, the temporary booth, gathering place and/or dwelling.

Similar to the way a sukkah can be reimagined physically through the diverse materials and shapes from which it is comprised and constructed, the sukkah can also be a metaphor for the people and prayers of those who inhabit it. While it is officially an agricultural celebration that also commemorates the temporary structures in which Jews resided while wandering the desert for 40 years after being freed from slavery in Mitzrayim, Sukkot is, at its core, a holiday that reminds us of our fragility as humans. Coming right after Yom Kippur, a day of deeply personal and intensely communal reflection and repenting, Sukkot is an intentionally joyous holiday that encourages us to be present with one another and the natural beauty around us. Like a sukkah, we are strong but have limited time. Like a sukkah, we are open and one with nature and the world around us. Like a sukkah, we find dynamic meaning and experience complex emotions, celebrating and commemorating a long, rich and evolving history.

Whether we look at the Amidah or the Kaddish, Jewish prayers and worship include and typically conclude with a prayer for peace. In fact, as part of our daily worship, we literally ask for a sukkah of shalom, or peace, in the Hashkiveinu prayer. Like a sukkah, peace does not just magically appear; it demands significant effort to build. Like Sukkot, peace is joyous and encourages us to live in the present at one with our surroundings. Like a sukkah, peace is fragile.

As we celebrate this holiday of Sukkot, I wonder how a sukkat shalom, a sukkah of peace, would look. I wonder how a sukkat shalom would feel for us as individuals and as a community. Inspired by our tradition, in connection with nature and our surroundings and in response to your personal Jewish journey, how will you construct your sukkat shalom? What will be the common materials, designs and meanings that we share as a community?

Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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