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Community BlogA Sukkot Meditation for 2020

Until this year, Sukkot always came too soon for me. Typically, after Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, I am spent. From reconnecting with community members to searching for seats at services to hosting holiday meals to noshing at communal break fasts . . . well, even this extrovert needs a break!

However, since COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, everything — including my approach to Sukkot — is different. When I received an email asking for volunteers to build Congregation Dorshei Tzedek’s sukkah, it seemed like a fine thing to do on a Wednesday afternoon. And more, I realized I was really looking forward to the potential for unplanned social contact. Unlike most of my life now — with regularly scheduled calls, Zooms, and socially distanced visits — this was the chance to safely see members of my congregation in an unplanned, informal way.

Since Rosh Hashanah, I’m considering how our religious traditions might support me in a new way this year. I think about “Jews of old,” who faced suffering, pain, and fears beyond what I can imagine — in the wilderness, with the destruction of the temples, pogroms, the Holocaust. Reflecting on their struggles and resilience gives me hope that I — and we — can weather this long-term loss and uncertainty.

As Sukkot begins, I offer a mindful meditation for this moment. Please get comfortable; if you can have someone read the visualization to you aloud, that’s even better.

Introduction

Not knowing, vulnerable, afraid. These emotions are common in the current era of COVID-19, and they are also resonant in the holiday of Sukkot. We are expected to eat in the sukkah regardless of the weather. For many of us, the daily weather over the past seven months has been extremely  consequential — if it is too hot, too cold, or too wet, we don’t necessarily want to be outside that much. The weather has become a barrier to connecting with community.

It would be convenient if Sukkot came when it was pleasant outside. “I sure would like Sukkot weather to be just perfect,” is a fine thought, but it’s just not reality. It may be as you’d like, and it may not. Sukkot is now, not then.

Visualization

Imagine that you are creating a sukkah just for you. It will cover and protect you from bright sun, rain, and wind. While you probably know what a traditional sukkah looks like, I invite you to create one that is unique to you, to what you want and you need in this moment. Take time to dream, to visualize, to imagine.

Ask yourself:

What kind of space am I in? What does it look like physically?
How do I feel in here emotionally?
Does it connect me to a special place, person, animal, or object?
What does it feel like in terms of textures and sensations? Is it soft or rough?
Does it have an aroma? A sound? Is it cool or warm?
Is there something I can bring into my sukkah that will help me feel even more safe or comfortable or whole?
If you have not already, imagine a place upon which to sit or rest. What shape is it? What is it made of? What object will hold and support you?

Your sukkah will shelter you. But you know that some things might make their way through the top or sides. Your sukkah is permeable, so may let in a drop of rain, a gust of wind, even an unwelcome critter.

And we are permeable too. We experience reactions and sensations, whether we prefer to or not. We are permeable. Your sukkah is not a perfect place, but it’s yours. I invite you to envision and explore your sukkah. You may leave and come back as often as you’d like. My blessing for all of us: May you take the safety and protection of your sukkah with you during this holiday.

Erica Streit-Kaplan is Associate Director of Hebrew College Me’ah. She has been practicing Jewish mindfulness for over 15 years.  Erica can be reached at estreit@hebrewcollege.edu

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