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Sukkot and the Global Refugee Crisis: Moving Beyond Make Believe

Sep 25, 2015

Blog Post

Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer – Educator, Community Engagement

“If you could invite anyone – alive or not – to share a meal, who would it be?”

Each year, this is the question that my friends and I pose to each other as we sit in the sukkah during the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot. We ask this question not just out of passing curiosity; we ask this question because we are, in some sense, called to ask.

During Sukkot, it is part of Jewish tradition to not just invite family and friends into our sukkah to share a meal but also to invite ushpizin, ancestral guests. Each day, in a brief ceremony, we welcome our ancestors Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Miriam, and Aaron – to name a few – into the sukkah. In a modern twist on this tradition, some Jews invite into the sukkah symbolic guests who have made significant contributions to the Jewish community and to the world.

In some sense, then, we are invited to play make believe. Regardless of whether you celebrate Sukkot, you have likely played this game before, wondering aloud with friends who, living or dead, you might invite to a party. The game requires some imagination, but, ultimately, the game ends. You stand up from your place when the party comes to a close or rise from your chair in the sukkah to return to your home.

What if this Sukkot, though, our musings became more than just play?

Right now, there are nearly 20 million refugees worldwide in need of a safe place to call home. What if this Sukkot we transformed our imaginings into reality and asked our government to take a bold leadership role in inviting some of those most vulnerable to find a place of refuge in our country? What if this Sukkot, as millions of Jews across the world shake their lulav and etrog to each corner of the earth, first reaching out and then drawing in, we joined with every nation of the world in every corner of the globe to reach out and draw in the world’s refugees?

Just as we invite our ancestors to take a place of honor in our sukkah this year, let us also invite refugees from across the globe to find shelter and safety in our midst. May this invitation live first in our imaginations but ultimately in a reality soon to come.