This week, Jews around the world will be building sukkot (the plural of sukkah, a temporary three-walled shelter commemorating the booths or huts the Israelites built in the desert) to celebrate the aptly-named festival of Sukkot, which also celebrates our thanks for the fall harvest. Households and communities each build a sukkah and Jews are commanded to stay in these sukkot for the period of the festival: “You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days, every person in Israel will dwell in sukkot. In order that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:42-43).
Yet while Jews build and live in temporary dwellings for a week (most of which are very close to permanent housing), many Americans are not given this flexibility. On a given night in 2012, 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness in the US. 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year. The number of homeless students reached an all-time high in 2012 of more than a million, or 2% of the student population. Many who are homeless work in full or part time jobs: a tumultuous economy makes it even more challenging for Americans to have a home to call their own. Even if they are employed, it is hard for many workers to earn enough money to own their own home.
One way that we can take action this Sukkot is by encouraging Congress and the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA) to re-establish adequate funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). In 2008, Congress created the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) to create 3.5 million affordable housing units. However, due to a loophole in the law, the NHTF never received funding and it’s time to look for alternatives that will make this effort successful. Sequestration cuts have further restricted the number of programs available. Take action and urge tell your Members of Congress and FHFA Director Mel Watt to reestablish funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.
In addition to being commanded to build these shelters, we are instructed to welcome others into them: “When the people of Israel leave their homes and enter the sukkah for the sake of God’s name, they merit to welcome the Divine Presence there, and all the seven shepherds descend from Gan Eden and come to the sukkah as their guests” (Zohar, Emor 103a).” Helping the homeless is not a choice; rather, it is an obligation. As we are reminded of the importance of inviting others to visit our sukkah, we need to ensure that those who do not have a home have a place to go and we must act to ensure that these individuals can have homes in the future.
This morning, the RAC staff worked together to build a sukkah, which is outside of our building on Massachusetts Avenue. The RAC will also be hosting a Lunch in the Sukkah next Tuesday (October 14) at 12 pm. We look forward to welcoming you into our Sukkah to celebrate Sukkot – make sure to RSVP so you can join us next Tuesday.
This Sukkot, as you sleep under the stars and think of the harvest, think of how fortunate we are to choose to give up our permanent shelter for one week a year for our Sukkot and what we can do to ensure that no one needs to lack shelter outside of this one week a year.