Last night we celebrated Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Sukkot. As the final day of the fall harvest chag, Shemini Atzeret includes a special prayer for rain called Tefillat Geshem. In the Biblical state of Israel (as opposed to in river-crossed Egypt) rain had incredible significance and was central to the continued viability of Israelite communities. Their gratitude to God for providing rain was necessarily a cornerstone of their religious identity.
Last Saturday, October 11, was International Day of the Girl. Just two years ago, the UN established this commemorative day to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality for young women and children around the world. The day is used as an opportunity for activist groups to come together with the goal of highlighting, discussing, and taking action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere. Read more…
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.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish year, we fast as an opportunity to reflect on the year past and turn to the future. The Torah instructs the Jewish people that “the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial.”(Leviticus 23:27). The fast begins with the Kol Nidre evening service through the shofar’s final Tekiah Gedolah blast at the close of the Yom Kippur afternoon service. This is one way by which Jews around the world look inward and focus on t’shuvah (repentance) and t’fillah (prayer).
Yet, there are many in this country who do not have the luxury of being able to choose when they will or will not choose to eat. 46.2 million Americans live in poverty and 47 million Americans, or 15% of the population, receive SNAP benefits.According to 2013 data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 49 million Americans lived in a household that faced difficulty affording enough food in 2013. 15.8 million children struggled with food insecurity issues in the past year. Additionally, 50% of U.S children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before they reach the age of 20. Hunger is still taking place on a massive scale, both in the United States and around the world.
By Rabbi Robert A. Nosanchuk
Quite often I remember my great bobe and zayde and the little village in Belarus they left to make a life here. I never saw the inside of their village. But I do remember my visits to their home as a child, and can still feel the bristle of my great zayde’s mustache on my cheek when he kissed me and greeted me. I feel called into Jewish activism by their legacy. And tonight I hear them and their generation speaking to me. They are asking: What did you learn from us? What did you learned from what has occurred to us in Europe and then here in the U.S.? What was the oppression we fled? And I hear them telling me of the help given to them when they arrived in this country- the shelter, food, and communal support they needed when they had nowhere else to turn?
These compelling questions are carried with me as I look at what is occurring on our southern borders, here in the U.S. My eyes have become focused on the volatile situation wherein nearly 60,000 children from Central America have streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border, in a huge wave of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Yesterday began the three-week period leading up to Tisha B’Av (August 4-5 this year), the darkest, saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On Tisha B’Av, we fast and we mourn for the destruction of the ancient temples, as well as many other devastations throughout Jewish history.
Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) is a project of the social justice initiatives of the Reform Movement, the largest denomination in American Jewry, with 1.5 million members and more than 900 congregations. The Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Campaign seeks to build a powerful network of Reform Jews praying with our feet through effective grassroots and legislative action on vital justice issues of our time.
This week we celebrate the Temple holiday of Shavuot, when we read and study the Book of Ruth. Ruth, a widow, a Moabite, and a stranger among the Israelites, is at a disadvantage from the start. Even though she is an outsider in a foreign land, remarkably, she finds kindness and compassion when she meets Boaz, who becomes her husband. Ruth’s story calls us to reach out to those on the margins of society, and ensure, as Boaz did, that they are brought out of the shadows.
This Shavuot, join the Reform Movement and stand with Ruth: Read more…
By Rabbi Jean E. Eglinton
Remember the High Holy Day Food Drive? We made it last for over fifty days – from the first of Elul through Simchat Torah. All those barrels of food we collected for the local food bank! We sure got into the habit of bringing a can of food every time we came to temple. The main point of doing a food drive that way is that it gets the issue of hunger into our awareness on a regular basis. And into our routine. That is no small thing. Read more…