Flooding in Colorado

Sukkot Inspires Awareness of Climate Refugees

Sukkot is one of the most festive holidays we observe in the Jewish religion. Sukkot often involves the enjoyable and often communal activity of decorating a sukkah, the song and dance of shaking the lulav and etrog, and of course, the delicious and serene experience of eating a meal under the stars. However, in the jovial feeling of the season, it’s easy to forget the more significant themes we can learn from the holiday, including the importance of shelter and housing, the notion of welcoming others into our homes, and the environment and sustainability.

During the season of Sukkot, we become mindful of and interact with the environment around us. When we eat and sleep in the sukkah, we feel the wind, breathe the air and look into the sky day and night. Intimately experiencing the outdoors in this way draws our attention to the ways in which climate change affects nature and our environment. Further, we are commanded to sleep in the sukkah for seven nights to remind us of the temporary shelters of our wandering ancestors during the exodus from Egypt. The Zohar teaches us that the sukkah provided a worldly paradise for our ancestors and that, traditionally, exalted guests were invited into this holy space. We are reminded of the mitzvah hachnasat orchim, “welcoming of guests,” commanding us to reach out to friends and strangers alike, and welcome them into our dwellings.

While sleeping in a temporary structure and feeling the full power of the elements, quite obviously connects with issues of homelessness and poverty, there is perhaps a less obvious but just as important comparison to be made: to the terrible reality of climate refugees both in North America and abroad. Climate refugees are people who are forced to migrate from their home regions because of a sudden or long-term change in the local environment such as flooding, drought, desertification or severe seasonal weather patterns. In spite of the specific environmental detriments inflicted on these communities, the issue is just that: communities and individuals are being directly affected by climate change. In fact, global warming will likely force 150 million people out of their home countries by 2050.

Displacement is not just something we see affecting people in developing countries. The recent storm in Colorado has destroyed 1,502 residential structures,  accounting for hundreds of newly homeless people. Personally, as a New Yorker, I watched many of my close friends cope with the loss of their homes and deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy just one year ago.

Sukkot is an enjoyable time to spend with family and friends, but it can also be a time to consider how your relationship with Judaism can relate to some of the larger crises effecting our global community. I hope awareness around climate refugees this Sukkot inspires lirdof tzedek v’shalom, the pursuit of justice and peace in our world.

Check out the RAC’s Sukkot holiday guides for ways to incorporate social justice, environmental advocacy and more into this year’s Sukkot celebrations!

Picture Courtesy of CNN News

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Sophie Golomb

About Sophie Golomb

Sophie Golomb is a 2013-2014 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated in 2013 from Brandeis University and is originally from Brooklyn, NY where she is a member of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue.

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