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Interfaith Sukkot Celebration and Protest

From October 19, 2016.

I believe that we are in the midst of another spiritual awakening. The North Dakota Pipeline, with all of its destructiveness, has brought together the largest and most diverse gathering of Native Americans, in all of history. More people are continuously coming into the camps at Standing Rock, indigenous people, clergy from all faiths, and supporters from around the U.S. and the world. Media attention is still quite scant, but there is a spiritual potential building in a way that’s unprecedented on this continent. It is also offering the rest of the America, and especially the Jewish community who knows the experience of exile and oppression all too well, an opportunity to truly honor and support Native Americans in a very concrete way. Perhaps even more centrally, “their” struggle is intimately tied into all of our struggles for clean water, earth, air, and a healthy sustainable communities.

Just two weeks ago, Jews all over the world celebrated the Holiday of Sukkot, the one Jewish holiday which demands we leave the synagogue, and spend the week outside, building community amidst the wonder of the grasses as well as the stars. It is also the one holiday during which, in Biblical times, offerings were made in the Temple not just on behalf of the community itself, but on behalf of all the (symbolic) 70 nations. Consequently, Sukkot was a particularly appropriate time to organize an interfaith worship and protest against the West Roxbury Spectra Pipeline expansion, which is part of an old energy system, economy, and world-view which is threatening not just the environment, but all people across the world.

Our action was in solidarity with the people at Standing Rock, as well as 1,000’s of communities organizing for Climate Justice around the world. Our prayers began with chants of praise and then moved to ritual to honor people’s pain about what is happening with this pipeline and all forms of destruction around the world. We reflected on the 4 species central to celebrating Sukkot, which highlight so naturally the necessity of people coming together in an intersectional struggle. We talked about the fact that reality that we are meant to be in a healthy relationship with Adamah (Earth). Our species is not unique in being Earthlings, but we are unique in needing the reminder that nature is neither our enemy, nor our servant. She is, at the least, our biological source of life, every moment of every single day. We struggled with the paradox of the Sukkah’s protection. A rickety impermanent shack which barely offers shade gives no physical solace, but gathers us together into spiritual community and fortitude. While G-d may be Everpresent, today we have to be each other’s shade. We must step up where there is harm and abuse, and protect our neighbors and all of those most vulnerable and oppressed.

We, a community of mostly white-people, had a lot of privilege in our gathering. If we were a group of mostly Indigenous people like it is in Standing Rock, I’m not sure that the police would have (consciously or not) accepted our protest as peaceful, set up orange cones around our Sukkah blocking a lane of traffic. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught during the Vietnam War, “while not all are guilty, all are responsible.” While clearly not all of us are guilty of racism or causing large scale environmental abuse, we are all responsible for finding ways to act. In reflecting with the interfaith community that gathered that day, I’ve been struck by how much of a yearning there is for everyone to connect with their own indigenous roots, by how much of a need there is to honor the pain we all feel about the suffering around us, and how much just a little bit of a good thing can go a long way. We stood and stand with all the people at Standing Rock, North Dakota, and all the communities struggling for the dignity of all life, and the health of the eco-systems which make our lives possible.


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