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Communal Exhaustion and the Gift of Sukkot

After almost two months of rising to the challenge of repentance and renewal, granting one another second chances for each other and ourselves, we get a second to sit down.

Jewish practice gets a bad rap for being “too intellectual, too spiritual” and not embodied enough. In response, may I present Sukkot. It doesn’t get more embodied than ritual practice that allows us to honor the harvest of the earth and of our emotional labor.

Dane Kutler teaches that Sukkot is the real self-care holiday. After the most communally intense part of our year, of a month of heshbon hanefesh (accounting for the soul, a means of taking stock of the year that has past), of apologizing to our dearest ones, of forgiving those who have hurt us, we’re TIRED. We’re raw! It’s a little awkward on Sukkot, the holiday immediately following Yom Kippur, to go see our friends and family after pouring our hearts out to them, not to mention pouring our hearts out to God.

The high holy days work because of communal buy-in, and the toll that the holidays take on a community are high. Preparing for all the services, children’s programming, learning and programs, meals, staffing the buildings we meet in, figuring out work schedules to take time off of work, or care for children out of school (or both), manage living in a secular world where the new year isn’t for 3 more months and a world where time stops…a community has to really show up to make it all happen.

Add on top of that apologizing and naming the tense issues in relationships, learning how to forgive and try again, thinking about how it will be different next time? Things are just a little bit…tense right now.

Sukkot teaches us that things don’t have to go back to normal immediately. Relationships processing teshuvah, personal spiritual journeys through lament and rejoicing to God, physical healing… it’s all too abrupt and sudden to just return into the flow of life.

So we get Sukkot, a mega-self-care holiday of building temporary pillow forts, decorating them, and observing my most favorite commandment: sitting down. Honestly!


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹקֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְשֵׁב בַּסֻּכָּה

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Ruakh HaOlam, asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’shev b’Sukkah.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Spirit of the Universe who has made us holy with your mitzvot and commanded us to sit in the Sukkah.

After almost two months of rising to the challenge of repentance and renewal, granting one another second chances for each other and ourselves, we get a second to sit down.

To dwell.
To linger.
An eight-day festival, to eat together, sing together, sleep alongside one another.

When I come out of a meditation or after lighting Shabbat candles, it can be hard to re-open my eyes. I was just inside such a safe, warm, perfected world, re-entering my surroundings is too much. So I slowly open my fingers, and open my eyes just a bit, let a little bit of the light shine through, until I have re-acclimated my eyes to the world out there, past my hands.

Of the many rules for the construction of a kosher Sukkah there is a rule about the roof. S’khakh, the green leafy covering of the temporary Sukkah structure, must not cover up the whole top. No, we must build a roof sparse enough that we can see the sky, notice the stars at night, see the clouds moving about our safe womb of a Sukkah. Our s’khakh re-acclimated us into the rest of the world, lets us peek through the roof to see what the outside is like, but not have to jump into it immediately.

Ariana Katz is rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, graduating in the spring of 2018. She is a queer white Ashkenazi femme 4th generation Philadelphian who sees rooted ritual and radical organizing as her Jewish legacy. Ariana was the creator and host of Kaddish, a podcast about death and identity (kaddishpodcast.com). She is a ritual maker and ruckus organizer, and has taught learners ages 3-93 for over a decade. Ariana has served as a volunteer chaplain at Planned Parenthood and currently sits on the Planned Parenthood board of Southeast Pennsylvania. Ariana is training to be a soferet, scribe of sacred Jewish texts. arianakatz.com.

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