It is before dawn on the second day of Sukkot and I am standing in Zuccotti Park. I am there to support the stalwart activists of Occupy Wall Street and to strengthen the growing Jewish presence in a crowd that has expressed and heard a few too many anti-Semitic comments about the big banks. Waving the lulav in front of the sukkah that remains in the park (thanks especially to the work of Daniel Sieradski and the staff and members of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice), I hope this prayer might come true: As we gather the winds of change from the east, north, west and south, may heaven and earth join to re-right the world.
Sukkot is a time of harvest, but the inequities and injustices planted in this city and this country over the last year cannot continue to yield their bitter fruit. Instead, we need to leave the offices and bank vaults and seats of power and go out into the world. We must sit as though in the great in-gathering sukkah our ancestors imagined and talk and laugh and learn from those most affected by those injustices.
In Zuccotti Park for the first time, I was nearly overwhelmed by the energy and passion of the thousands of people geared up for a possible confrontation between Occupy Wall Street and the City of New York. I thought of the Exodus from Egypt and I wondered about the people who gathered to make that great liberation, the millions of people of all ages sometimes called a "mixed multitude." I stand in a sea of mixed multitude today, mostly young, some like me, some not so. Between the tiny pop-up sukkah in the middle of the park and the wave of sound from the human microphone, how could I not imagine the Exodus? How big were the mobile desert huts our former-slave ancestors carried after the great liberation? And how did they hear the Ten Commandments at Sinai, if not with a human microphone?
Watching the sea of young activists similarly broadcasting their message of liberation this morning, I wondered: Would a Moses emerge? Or would this movement, as it seems to so far, follow his father-in-law Jethro's advice and create many leaders of many small and larger groups? Will they arrive at a modern Sinai, a place of crafting the rules and policies needed to move the grand exuberance of today into the great impactful change of tomorrow? And who may remain in leadership through what is so often the long wandering in the wilderness that precedes arrival at the promised land of change? To use the examples of my own youth, is this Woodstock or a Vietnam War protest or both? Or are these young people creating something completely new, something that has as yet no name except "occupy"? They are surely occupying: living in a small patch of New York ground, establishing communications and provisions and some attempt at sanitation and even -- dear to this former librarian's heart -- a library. Occupying is for now their occupation, no wages in sight.
So those ancient crowds of former Hebrew slaves were on my mind, and the need then and now for liberation. While Passover is our festival of liberation, this year Sukkot fits that bill as well. Consider its most visible symbol, the sukkah, a fragile hut in which we are to eat and often sleep, and recognize its many possible uses and meanings:
For the newly or long-time homeless, the sukkah provides shelter.
For those in danger of losing homes, the sukkah is a fragile home that nonetheless stands firm.
For those who have lost jobs, the sukkah offers a bountiful table for all, old and young.
For those whose neighborhoods have been decimated, the sukkah is a center and a place of welcome.
For those who bend under the growing limits of aspiration, the sukkah lets us see the stars.
For those whose dreams are shattered, the sukkah offers sunlight through green shade, and requires nothing of those who sit but to bask in it and be renewed.
As we gather the winds of change from the east, north, west and south, may heaven and earth join to re-right the world.
This Sukkot, may we find ways to re-right the unbalanced world, to re-write the story of liberation and harvest, and to re-rite the rituals of this ancient modern festival.
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann is founder and leader of Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives: Building a progressive Jewish community in Brooklyn for 18 years so far.