Jewish Law commands that for seven days we dwell in the sukkah, eating, sleeping, and rejoicing--celebrating the changing of the season (and the tradition of the harvest). According to the Shulchan Aruch, we literally disrupt our routine so that, for seven days, we live outside of our regular spaces. Our usual homes become “temporary dwellings” and the Sukkahs our “permanent ones” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 639:1).
Sukkot reinforces the notion that a “home” can feel at the same time both permanent and temporary.
We also see this dichotomy in the world around us today. Warsan Shire’s poem “Home” illustrates moments when the idea of “home” can actually seem scary or unsafe, depending on where “home” is. Nobody leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, she writes, you have to understand, nobody puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. Inspired by a visit to Rome in 2009, Shire intentionally wrote “Home” to represent what she observed as the difficulties of the refugee crisis in Europe. And indeed, since its publication, many refugees have used these words to represent their own stories, believing that it captures the ways they feel about their ideas of “home,” too.
“Home” reflects on the circumstances that can make a home feel dangerously temporary. It also allows for us to think about the qualities that can make a home feel more permanent.
Jewish History can relate to this paradox.
On January 20, 1906, Russian-Jewish immigrant Abraham Cahan published a newspaper advice column called “The Bintel Briefs” in the The Jewish Forward, a Yiddish language newspaper published in New York City’s Lower East Side. The column records the dilemmas of Jewish immigration in New York during the early 1900s, detailing very universal questions about integration and assimilation. These letters reflect on the often challenging circumstances that new Jewish immigrants faced when coming to (and settling in) America. They allow us glimpses into moments from our own modern history when the idea of “home” felt so impermanent.
On this Sukkot, let us remember that all homes at times feel both temporary and permanent. Some feel more secure right now than others, and we can open the door to those who might want to come inside.