Occupy Mishegas

A week ago, between 500 – 1000 Jews showed up at the Occupy Wall Street encampment for Yom Kippur services alongside three other cities. (Our first-person reportage from NYC, DC, Boston here and here.) Here’s a collection of the highlights:

  • Occupy Sukkot quickly followed on the success of Yom Kippur, with independent plans to erect sukkahs in New YorkBostonPhiladelphiaWashington, D.C.AtlantaOaklandLos AngelesPortland and Seattle.
  • “Occupy Judaism” saw its first  arrests in Seattle, where police arrested 10 and dismantled the illegal structure (pics, video).
  • The NYPD however, according to Dan Sieradski, gave the Wall Street sukkah a wide berth while Josh Nathan-Kazis tweeted the NYPD were warning those erecting tents about halakhic requirements on seeing the stars.
  • David Brooks in a NY Times editorial coyly accused the Occupy Wall Street movement of anti-semitism, picked up swiftly by (oh yes) Rush Limbaugh. The 1% vs. 99%, apparently, is code for “Jews” and “Gentiles.”
  • Mik Moore responded forcefully on Facebook, reposted to Jewschool, “What he is doing is divisive. It diminishes real antisemitism. And it ignores the thousands of Jews who are active participants in shaping Occupy Wall Street.”
  • Connect with Occupy Judaism’s official blog, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Got pictures or reflections on your Occupy Sukkot goings on? Tell us on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Mona Eltahawy

Update: videos are now embedded in the post.  Enjoy!

As I mentioned in my brief first-day J Street conference round up post, I secured interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative (best known for the Ground Zero Mosque, which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque), and Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian journalist and activist who rocked the socks off the J Street conference.  Those videos are now online; the YouTube playlist is here.  There are three videos – Mona Eltahawy on social media in the Jasmine Revolution and its potential in the future of the Arab and Muslim world, my question for Imam Rauf on the religious justification for his work, and footage of a few other press-folk asking him questions.  Check them out!

Mona did a superb job of addressing the straw man argument made by most of the prominent critics of the social-media-as-organizing-tool theory (Malcolm Gladwell, Evgeny Morozov, etc.).  That is, she made a strong case for how Twitter and Facebook were essential in helping garner support for a mass meeting and demonstration of a kind that was quite rare under Mubarak.  Notably, she doesn’t claim that it was Twitter or Facebook that toppled the regime.  No, that distinction belongs to the brave Egyptians who risked their lives to claim their basic human rights of freedom of speech and assembly.  But if you look closely, most of us arguing for social media’s importance in democratic movements aren’t saying that it’s the Internet itself that overthrows regimes, just that it’s a tool for those who desire to do so.  The key to any organized resistance movement, especially one that aspires to nonviolence, is organization.  Today, the Internet is often one of the last places where free exchange of ideas can take place.  Its fast pace and adaptability mean that dedicated users can often stay one step ahead of those trying to shut down the flow of information.  This is what makes it important and in some ways game-changing.

Imam Rauf, who’s been one of my personal heroes for a long time, spoke beautifully about the religious underpinnings of his peace work.  I hadn’t planned to ask him about this – the question came about as a result of a topic of discussion on the panel on Jewish-Muslim community relations on which he’d just spoken.  One Jewish community leader explained a program called “Iftar in the Sukkah,” in which local Muslims and Jews gathered at an Orthodox shul to share the evening break-fast meal during Ramadan, which for the past few years has overlapped with Sukkot.  The image of Muslims and Jews taking part in this ritual together was, for me, amazing, and reminded me of the phrase “ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha” – “spread over us your sukkah of peace.”  This is pretty much one of my favorite liturgical lines ever, and I felt that I just had to ask Imam Rauf about it.  So I mentioned that connection, and asked him what scriptural or Islamic theological justification he found for his work.  His answer, that it’s rooted in the very word “Islam,” coming from “Salaam,” was completely in line with his messages of peace and mutual understanding.

I continue to be inspired by the work that both of these courageous activists do every day.  Mona Eltahawy speaks truth to power, and Imam Rauf (and the Park 51 project overall) has handled himself with incredible grace in the face of one of the worst smear campaigns I’ve ever seen, and more generally in a climate of increasing American Islamophobia.  May they both continue their work and dedication, and may their efforts be rewarded.

And let us say, Amen.

Prediction

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

The holiday season is now over. And something about it may have felt a bit out of the ordinary, unusual, abnormal. And based on recent experience, that feeling is accurate. But in the 2010s, abnormal is becoming the new normal.

In the last decade, as often as not, the Jewish calendar has followed the pattern in which all the fall holidays (except Yom Kippur) fall on weekends. This pattern is both loved and hated. People who work for Jewish organizations and observe 2 days of yom tov (so that the holidays are on Saturday and Sunday) dread this pattern because (unlike in other years, when the Jewish holidays are days off) they go from workweek to holiday to workweek to holiday, without a break to do laundry. People who work and go to school outside the Jewish world, whether they do 1 or 2 days, find this pattern easier, since it doesn’t require taking any days off of work/school, except for Yom Kippur (but that’s the one that your boss has heard of, and is much easier to explain than Shemini Atzeret).

Love it or hate it, we won’t see this pattern again until 2020. This Mah Rabu post from a couple of years ago covers all the details.

In its place, we see a new popular pattern emerging. This year, Yom Kippur was on Shabbat, but all the other holidays were on Thursdays (continuing into Friday for the 2-day people). This means that the 2-day people got a string of what are colloquially known as “3-day yom tovs”: when a 2-day yom tov falls immediately before or after Shabbat, resulting in 72 straight hours away from whatever one doesn’t do on Shabbat or yom tov. People working in the Jewish world appreciate all the 4-day weekends. Other people have to miss a lot of work or school: 3 or 4 days for 1-day-yom-tov people (depending on their stance on Rosh Hashanah), and 6 days for 2-day-yom-tov people, and that’s not including travel days.

Love it or hate it, this pattern is here to stay. We’ll do it all over next year, and then again in 2013, 2014, and 2017: half of the years in the 2010s.

The other half of the decade will see a different pattern that we haven’t seen in quite a while: Rosh Hashanah on Monday, with all the fall holidays falling on weekdays. This pattern also includes Shavuot starting on Saturday night, leading to another “3-day yom tov” for the 2-day crowd.

All told, the half-decade from 5771 to 5775 will include a total of 14 “3-day yom tovs”, and the decade from 5771 to 5780 will include 21. (But don’t worry, there’s only 18 more to go!)

This leads to my prediction (awaited since the title of the post): This decade, and especially this half-decade, will see lots of 2-day-yom tov people switching over to 1 day.

In a few years, we can come back and check this prediction and see whether the 1-day majority has gotten any larger. In the meantime, back to work.

But is it a sukkah?

Well, I have a hard time figuring out how they could meet the requirements (for some of them anyway), but really, who cares? It’s not like I could afford any of them anyway, or even find a place to put them. And they’re lovely.
blo-puff sukkah

Enjoy the Jewish equivalent of a unicorn chaser, here.

So, too, is a thicket of rules. The Talmud demands that a sukkah have at least two and a half walls, a roof that allows indwellers to see the stars and feel the rain but nevertheless stay mostly in the shade. The roof must be made of uprooted organic material—twigs or fronds, say—but no food or utensils (no chopstick thatching allowed). Mystifyingly, the rabbis of yore explicitly permitted the carcass of an elephant to be used as one of the walls. (No contestants took advantage of that option, sensing perhaps that the Department of Buildings or peta might not concur.) Neither the DOB nor the Parks Department had a problem with Kyle May and Scott Abrahams’s proposal for a cedar trunk supported on glass walls. The competition’s rabbinic consultant worried that the log might be too solid, though, and required that it be perforated.

The best entries play on a childlike desire to duck inside a mini-structure in search of fantasy. The most alluringly over-the-top, Blo Puff, by the Brooklyn-based team called Bittertang, looks like some soft, curvaceous organism that encloses a walk-in pouch saturated with the smell of eucalyptus. The most theatrically intricate and least hutlike finalist is Repetition Meets Difference, by the German architect Matthias Karch. In this multilayered helix, lengths of wood are knotted together in a system of joinery that can make any structure infinitely extendable. As a secular urban pavilion it would be an ornament, but it is also a showy riff on a holiday about humility, a tour de force of engineering where none is needed.

Vote on your favorite here

Sukkah City | NYC 2010

It may seem a little early for a Sukot post, but the deadline is fast approaching to enter your bizarre modern version of the sukah in the Sukkah City: NYC 2010 exhibition. Apparently, if your design is selected, you get to build a weird sukah in Union Square.

Their elevator pitch:

12 radically temporary structures will be built in Union Square Park in New York City. Funded by us. Designed and built by you.

Register by July 1, enter by August 1, installed September 19-21.

From The Architect’s Newspaper:

Hoping to challenge not only New Yorkers’ notions about sukkahs but also the world’s, Joshua Foer has launched Sukkah City for this coming Sukkot. From September 19–21, a dozen experimental sukkahs will be constructed in Union Square Park, created by what Foer anticipates will be a mix of the world’s foremost architects and artists, though the competition is open to anyone, goyim included. “The idea is to take this ancient architectural identity and reinvent it and really see what we can do with it, to really push the boundaries,” Foer said.

For millennia, sukkahs have looked about the same. Three walls of varying dimensions and orientations with a roof made of organic matter—palm fronds, sugarcane, or cornhusks are among the common foliage—where more sky is visible than roof. A place of hospitality and reflection, it exists for just eight days. And it is within these relatively strict yet open-ended constraints that Foer and his partner on the project, critic Thomas de Monchaux, hope entrants will explore.

“Design is the search for constraints, so I think our expectation is that different designers will zero in on different aspects of the sukkah to produce something we’ve never seen before,” de Monchaux said. “We’re really hoping for a radicalized reaction to each of the constraints, though if someone wants to take them all on, we welcome that, too.”

Check out their slick site here. There, you can read about all of the laws of the sukah. Most are halachic. One is municipal:

There is no maximum area, except in NYC where any structure larger than 19 x 8 feet is not considered temporary by DOB.

PS. Did you know that you can use a whale or an elephant as one side of your sukah?

Everything new under the Sukah

There may be nothing new under the sun, but there’s plenty new (and old, but new to me) under the sukah this year.

Sukot Goyim (like a Shabos Goy?)

In Israel, it seems a gazillion Christian headed to Ein Gedi to fulfill a prophecy about goyim observing Sukot.

Around 4,000 gathered on the moonlit beach of Ein Gedi to worship “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and to fulfill an ancient Hebrew prophesy penned more than 2,500 years ago by the prophet Zecharia, which they say predicts that people from every nation will someday join hands with Jews to celebrate Succot.

That full story is at JPost. Thanks to Relgion and State in Israel for pointing this one out.

Sleeping under the Sukah–In jail

For the first time this year, religious convicts in Israel will be allowed to sleep in a sukah during Sukot.

…for the first time ever, the Israel Prison Service will allow religious prisoners to sleep in a sukkah during the holiday. Until now, the Israel Prison Service has permitted prisoners in the special wing for observant Jews at the Ma’asiyahu Prison to eat in a sukkah erected in the prison courtyard. The prisoners have always been more closely guarded while sitting in the sukkah than they are when confined to their cells, and no prisoner has ever been allowed to sleep in the sukkah.

This important news pointed out again by jblog Religion ans State in Israel. The full story is at some website called Etrog.

A secular Sukah?

Citizens of fancy Tel Aviv neighborhood Ramat Aviv will be living it up this Sukot in their secular sukah.

The secular sukkahs feature activities such as singing in public – a favorite Israeli pastime – under the guidance of singer Revital Friedman; therapeutic workshops by Noya Tzuk, who practices Reiki and self-awareness techniques (participants are requested to bring their own towels); and a special workshop for Hoshana Raba, the seventh day of Sukkot, called “Sweet Skewers” – in which, a flyer promises, “we will learn to design a pretty and tasty skewer of sweets.”

That’s from Religion and State in Israel, with the complete article at Arutz Sheva.

Sukot with the Samaritans

This is by no means new, but it’s new to me. The Jew-ish Samaritans apparently build elaborate sukot out of fruit and keep them inside.

In the village of Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim near the West Bank city of Nablus, the Samaritan priest and Director of Samaritan’s Museum Husney W. Kohen and his family have built theirin-door Sukkah (Tabernacles) with fruits of the holy land. Kohen said the sukkah was built to recall the same Tabernacle build by ancient Israelites after they left Sinai Desert in Egypt 3,500 years ago.

As pointed out by the JTA Telegraph. Full story at Xinhua News Agency, of all things.

Drive-Through McSukah

If you’re in the Miami area and you need to grab quick moment in the sukah, stop by the drive-through sukah!

Jews can now motor into a temporary sukkah, a tent in the parking lot of Pinecrest’s Bet Shira Congregation, for a few minutes to pray, enjoy nature and get a bite to eat. Starting Friday at sundown, when the harvest festival holiday of Sukkot begins, Jews can visit its “McBet Shira Sukkah” — a makeshift wooden shell decorated with palm fronds and offering open views of the sky. It is situated in the middle of the temple’s parking lot at 7500 SW 120th St.

Full article at the Miami Herald.

A Slim, Urban Sukah


I’m always amazed at the sight of a sukah in a heavily urban area. Rabbi Andy Bachman recently posted pictures of the sukah at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. Their sukah is a marvel of urban sukah engineering. It’s big, but looks very long and skinny, made to fit in a little alleyway.

Sukot on the Move

I previously blogged about a mobile sukah concept here. There’s also this. Meanwhile, Chabad has an 18-wheeler with a sukah on the back traipsing around New York City and, according to Tablet,

Enterprising 16-year-old yeshiva student Levi Duchman has affixed a mini-sukkah to a pedicab and has been biking around Brooklyn bringing the mitzvah to the people. (Chabad’s website, which published a report on the project, may have been confused by more traditional stories of Jews in New York—its article uses the word “peddling” instead of “pedaling” throughout.)

Full story here.

Anybody seen any other Sukot mishegaas?

A Woman’s Place is in the Sukkah

I’m a devoted reader of Boston Globe reporter Michael Paulson’s blog, Articles of Faith, even despite his recent removal of Jewschool from his blogroll.

Today, he posted a video about Sukkot by Globe photographer Joanne Rathe. I don’t think the video will shock anyone here in terms of the information presented, but it was fascinating to me because of the absence of men, despite focusing on an Orthodox family. (I’m making an assumption here based in part on the way the women are dressed.) And I’m pleased that it was presented simply as “a look at the traditions associated with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot as seen through the eyes of a family in Boston” and not “a female perspective on Sukkot.”


Moadim l’simcha!

Posting seems slow this week, perhaps because it’s chol hamoed Sukkot, the middle part of the holiday when halakha permits working but still demands lulav-waving and sukkah-dwelling. Not wanting to leave our dear readers out in the cold (no pun intended), I asked Dr. Google about interesting chol hamoed customs that might inspire a post.

There just aren't a lot of options for pictures of Jewish clowns.Dr. Google did not disappoint. One of the first links I found was to this entry from the Jewish Virtual Library, which tells me

On Chol Hamoed many Orthodox families go to amusement parks, the circus, the zoo, and engage in other recreational activities with friends to celebrate Passover or Sukkot.

Let me go on record as being deeply disappointed with my previous 31 years of Jewish education for not having taught me this.

Curious, I asked Dr. Google to tell me more about this circus-on-Chol Hamoed tradition. (I have a particular fascination with the circus, having played the Ringmaster and James Bailey in my high school production of Barnum.)

First, I discovered CholHamoedEvents.com, a project of JewishBoxOffice.com bringing together information and ticket deals for all sorts of festive events during this week, tailored to an Orthodox crowd, including…

Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus featuring “A Poshiter Guest Performer” (a “Poshiter Yid” is a “simple Jew” in Yiddish) as well as “No Live Singing” (presumably to save us from the threat of Kol Isha).

Apparently, the circus has been doing these especially-frummy shows during Chol Hamoed since 2004. There’s even a DVD available from a previous Pesach performance with Uncle Moishy and the Yeshiva Boys Choir:




And now that I know about this, my plan to hit up the theme parks during Pesach seems not only practical, but downright religious. And knowing is half the battle.

How is a portable sukah an innovation?

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle.

So the sukah is a remembrance of wandering in the desert and living in portable structures, right?

Tablet suggested on Tuesday a remarkable invention–a portable sukah. Either this is the biggest “no duh” invention in Jewish history, or it’s truly innovative. Think about it. We build these structures to commemorate a nomadic existence, but then leave them in one place for the duration of sukot.

Tablet has this to say about their dubiously-innovative innovation:

In advance of Sukkot, we reached out to architects and designers and asked for contemporary reimaginings of the sukkah. Charles and Julian Boxenbaum, the father-and-son duo behind BUZstudios … [have] delighted us yet again—this time with their portable SukkahSeat.

I’ll admit. It’s pretty cool. I kind of want one. Full story here.

I Yid it Myself

Deliberate faith and faith led unconsciously are not equally valued in Jewish tradition, said best by the parable of the little boy who couldn’t even read the Yom Kippur prayers on an eve of God’s severe judgment over his village. “I do not know which prayers to say, Lord, so here, I give you the whole book!” The boy’s sincere effort annuls Heaven’s decree above the practiced prayers of the town’s learned men. This is the point I make.

Kung Fu Jew’s SukkahThese thoughts come from putting up my Sukkah last week. Twice. I walked a couple blocks to “Sukkah Depot” in Crown Heights and surveyed the typical Lubavitch pre-holiday bustle. Sukkah kits of all varieties were selling like hot cakes. But it seemed to me that buying a kit was the easy way out — did Moses have a kit? Surely the wandering Israelites MADE kits but it sure as hell wasn’t PVC piping and water-proof tent fabric. I opted for the wood planks. More »

Iftar Ba-Sukkah

Once in a (half) lifetime opportunity! JCUA Logo

Midwest Jews! Help bring Chicago’s Muslim and Jewish communities together as we host our fellow descendants of Abraham for an evening of what both traditions do best: eating, prayer and schmoozing. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are currently in the month of Ramadan. They fast from dawn to sunset every day for a month (and you thought Yom Kippur was rough) and then break the fast each day with a meal called Iftar. This year, their fast coincides with Sukkot, thus this sweet opportunity to feed some hungry muslims and do something meaningful and positive with our fellow Semites.

Who: Muslims and Jews
What: Iftar in the Sukkah
Where: Anshe Sholom Synagogue, 540 W. Melrose, Chicago Illinois
When: 5:30 – 7:30, October 1, 2007
How much: $5-10 suggested donation to the JCUA for making this kind of stuff possible.

RSVP to Irene at Irene@jcua.org or hit her up 312-663-0960 with questions. The skies don’t align like this for another 30 years folks.

Thanks to Ari Hart, for sharing this.

HaSukkah-Rya

To paraphrase someone who commented on this article on Ha’aretz’s website: with all of the poverty and other assorted tzuris in Jerusalem, this is what the municipality is spending its money on?!

Jerusalem municipality to erect sukkah made entirely of candy
By Haaretz Staff

The Jerusalem municipality and the Ariel municipal company are planning to build a sukkah made entirely of candy to mark the Jewish holiday of Sukkot later this week.

The sukkah will be built in Jerusalem’s Safra Square and will be named “HaSukkah-Rya”, a play on words meaning hard candy.

Two tons of candy and candy-shaped ornaments will be used in the construction of the 1,000 square meter sukkah. The lighting will be in the shape of candy and the walls will be covered with candy and bubble gum. Various sweets will be offered to guests free of charge.

The sukkah will be open to visitors starting on Wednesday. Cultural events and other attractions will be held in the sukkah throughout the holiday.

Filed under Israel, Sukkot

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Sukkot, Immigration, and a Great Poster

From Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Jewish Funds for Justice and jspot:

On Sukkot, many of us invite ushpizin — honored guests, both living and dead — into our sukkah. During this period of vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric and raids, too often immigrants are viewed with suspicion rather than treated like guests to be honored.

We hope that you will join with individuals and institutions across the United States in extending a welcome to the immigrants who care for our children and aging relatives, work in our synagogues and schools, and add to the cultural and economic life of our communities. On Sukkot, when we remember the experience of being gerim — sojourners without a permanent home — we commit ourselves to helping others to find permanent homes for their own families.

To help us build sukkot that demonstrate our desire to welcome immigrant communities, the Jewish Task force for Comprehensive Immigration Reform has created a special poster. We hope that you will place this poster in your personal or institutional sukkot as a sign of your commitment to making America a safe place for immigrants.

This poster is available for purchase at www.cafepress.com/jewishjustice. Three sizes are available, in prices ranging from $6 to $18. Order soon to ensure delivery before the holiday begins next week. Click here to read the poster’s text.

For more information about immigration and Jewish perspectives on immigration, please visit our online resource center . There, you will find immigration fact sheets, time lines, text studies and divrei torah.

Best wishes for a wonderful and meaningful Sukkot.

Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Jill Jacobs

(on behalf of) More »

Sukkathon to Fight Malaria

arij
Looking for another fulfilling aspect to add to your sukkot repertoire? You’re in luck, because Ari Johnson, who you might know from such projects as Jews in the Woods and Moishe/Kavod House Boston, is organizing a great new initiative combining celebrating sukkot and social action.

Sukkot hearkens back to a time when Jews were harvesting and had substantially less protection from the elements in their lives, an era when natural disasters and disease threatened. In this present day, many Jews no longer feel the insecurity our ancestors did, but we can all help fight disease and help people who sleep in sukkot, not as a spiritual choice/obligation but as a necessity.

In Mali, and many other places, due to the heat of the rainy season it is important to sleep where the outside breezes cool people down. However, those same places have ample mosquitoes many of which carry malaria and are especially prevalent during that season. Without nets people die of an alarmingly preventable disease. Ari thought to link our sleeping in sukkot with theirs and the Sukkathon is a project where folks will (safely) sleep in sukkot to raise money to buy mosquito nets for places where so doing is unsafe. Sukkathons being organized in communities in Toronto, Providence, Waltham, Worcester, Newton, New Haven, and Philly thus far, will you be the next to step up?

Get the details on the flip…
More »