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Altered Harvest: Sukkot and Climate Change

The sukkah is one profound place to remember the effects of global scorching on all of us.

Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is the third and final harvest festival of the Jewish calendar. Its festivities contain both celebration of the ingathering of the earth’s abundance and prayers for rain so that the new harvest will grow. This holiday has existed since the time of the Bible and is still celebrated with the waving of bundles of plants—palm, myrtle, willow, and citron—and with seven days of dwelling in outdoor harvest booths. These booths or sukkot, made with walls but open to the sky, with a roof of branches that let in the light of sun and stars, represent the fragility of our existence and our dependence on the earth’s gifts. Dwelling for a week in a sukkah is a way to get in touch with our relationship to the elements: soil, wind, trees, sun, rain.  

The sukkah is one profound place to remember the effects of global scorching on all of us. Many harvests have already been diminished, changed, altered, or lost because of the climate chaos humans have engendered. The harvest booth, which reminds us that we are fragile beings, part of the natural world, can also remind us of our responsibility and commitment to change our ways.     

This year, decorate your sukkah in solidarity with the Climate Ribbon project. If you have the custom of building a sukkah, you can tie ribbons to its walls or roof. You can ask all who enter your sukkah to write on one of the ribbons something that they love, something they don’t want to lose, or are already losing, to climate chaos. Others in the sukkah can read the ribbon aloud, saying: “We are with you” or “We’ve got your back.” Make the Climate Ribbon ritual part of your mealtimes and ritual moments in the sukkah. At the end of a meal or at the end of the holiday, encourage guests to take a ribbon, tie it around their wrists, and go home with it, symbolically promising to work to protect the things we all love about our planet. Together, we will weave a protective sukkah around our world, and make it a place of abundant harvest once again.

Learn how to create your own Climate Ribbon ritual here. After disassembling the sukkah, the Climate Ribbon project would love for you to mail in your Climate Ribbons to take to the massive art installation outside the next UN Climate Summit, the COP21. Address to mail ribbons: Climate Ribbon, 139 Norfolk Street #3D, New York, NY 10002.

Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is the co-founder, with Taya Shere, of Kohenet: The Hebrew Priestess Institute. She is the co-author, also with Taya Shere, of the newly published The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership, as well as Siddur haKohanot: A Hebrew Priestess Prayerbook. She is also the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic Jewish seminary. Rabbi Hammer is also the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons, and The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, as well as a children’s book, The Garden of Time, and a forthcoming volume of poetry, The Book of Earth and Other Mysteries. Rabbi Hammer was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary and holds a doctorate in social psychology from the University of Connecticut.

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