The Age of Insecurity
Ordinarily, we would be beginning Term 4 by hosting our students for meals and experiences in our school sukkot. Unfortunately, due to Distance Learning, this year only our ELC students have been able to partake in this annual tradition during the chag. The festival of Sukkot is one that resonates deeply with the values of the School and is one that seems to have special significance in this time.
Sukkot reminds us about the impermanence of our experiences and harkens back to the time that our ancestors lived in temporary dwellings. It feels somewhat ironic that many may have struggled to observe this tradition due to being locked down in their permanent residence over this time.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks refers to Sukkot as the “Festival of Insecurity”. What he wrote about Sukkot, years before the global COVID-19 Pandemic, seems so apt for 2020. He wrote that the “twenty-first century will one day be seen by historians as the Age of Insecurity. We, as Jews, are the world’s experts in insecurity, having lived with it for millennia. And the supreme response to insecurity is Sukkot, when we leave behind the safety of our houses and sit in sukkot … in huts exposed to the elements. To be able to do so and still say, this is zeman simchatenu, our festival of joy, is the supreme achievement of faith, the ultimate antidote to fear.”
The timing of Sukkot, on the eve of a return to school for most of our students, reinforces the themes of impermanence, flexibility and adaptability that are embedded in the genesis of this festival. Sukkot acknowledges the adjustments that the Hebrews made when they endured a generation of nomadic living following the Exodus from Egypt.
Sukkot also speaks to us in the way that it adopts experiential learning as a model for interacting with our history, tradition and narrative. It is often asked how it is possible that the Jewish people and culture have survived through the millennia despite the many obstacles we have faced. Somewhere in the answer has to be the enormous value placed on education and the unique approach that encourages us to experience aspects of our stories as if they had happened to us personally and to so embed them in our own identities. This is ritualised in the Pesach Seder but also in the annual building of sukkot thousands of years after our forebears lived in them.
Perhaps most importantly the always-open sukkah reflects our values of inclusivity and social justice. It is a timely reminder of our obligations to welcome the stranger and to offer true comfort, support and community to one another. As we tentatively and optimistically approach a time when we can begin to reduce our physical distance I hope that we embrace these values more strongly than ever before.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.