Lilith Feature

Eco-Ushpizin: Women Take On The Environment

Sukkot is an equinox holiday — day and night are equal, all is in balance; its purpose is to encourage us to pause in life before the onset of winter. The Torah enjoins Jews to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and to build fragile “sukkot” in which to dwell seven days. The ceremonial use of these booths came from the custom of farm workers’ building little huts in the fields so they could rest, protected from the midday sun. At the height of the harvest, workers also spent their nights there.

At Sukkot, our autumn holidays come to an end, and then, a day later, we scroll all the way back to the start of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.”

The sukkah is a frail shelter that can easily be buffeted by rain and wind, but the liturgy specifically instructs us to “sit there.” Why should we be enjoined to sit in an inadequate shelter? Because true shelter resides not in stronger walls, not in more square feet, but in being in harmony with what is, in feeling connected to life, and its inexorable processes. We “sit there” as well to understand nature — where the harvest came from, that huge natural processes sustain us.

There is a tradition of inviting mystical guests — known as ushpizin — into one’s sukkah, one per night: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. We rejoice in the fruits of our harvest, and that makes us feel particularly welcoming and hospitable. But hold it. Where are the women?

In the following pages, Lilith invites them in. These are women who have really “sat there” in sukkot, and they bring back timely messages: Connecting with the earth, protecting it, is a religious value.

If it’s not your tradition to build a sukkah, take these pages, and clothespins, to a public park. Pin them on trees — they can be your sukkah. Add a song, a reading and our guests, as well as yours — eco-ushpizin.

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