Community Blog Sukkot & Diwali: Welcoming Celestial & Human Guests

By Rabbi Or Rose

This year, my family and I had the honor of hosting 15 high school fellows from the Miller Center’s Dignity Project into our sukkah. On a beautiful Sunday fall afternoon, we gathered to share a meal and explore the theme of hospitality, which is integral to this harvest holiday.

In advance of the event, I asked the students to bring something to adorn (even temporarily) the sukkah space that would also help us learn more about them. The fellows responded in thoughtful and imaginative ways, focusing on different aspects of their identities.

One poignant example was the gift Tanvi, a 16-year-old Hindu student from the North Shore of Greater Boston, presented to us. She kindly offered my family a set of brightly colored ceramic bells fashioned by one of her family members for the upcoming Hindu festival of Diwali. Tanvi explained that like Sukkot, this ancient celebration focuses on hospitality, and that the bells are commonly hung on doors as a sign of welcome to celestial and human guests. She added that among the related customs is for Hindus to leave their front doors open (even just a crack in colder climates) to welcome guests throughout Diwali as a concrete sign of hospitality.

This exchange with Tanvi led us into a related conversation about the mystical Sukkot ritual of Ushpizin (Aramaic for “Guests”), of welcoming sublime spirits from the Jewish past into our harvest huts, and by extension into a discussion about whom the youth would want present in the sukkah that day. Who, I asked the youth, would they like to invite to this fall meal, during which we give thanks for the bounty of the earth while also acknowledging the fragility of life (as represented by the temporary and flimsy sukkah structure)? The range of responses was as diverse as the fellowship group itself, including such historical figures as Jesus and Sojourner Truth, as well as contemporary musicians, activists, and family members.

I want to thank the Dignity Project fellows and staff for visiting our sukkah and helping us fulfill the mitzvah (sacred obligation) of hospitality. Doing so with such a thoughtful and kind group truly made this a “joyous season” (as Sukkot is described in Jewish tradition)!

Rabbi Or N. Rose is the founding director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College. He currently working on two edited volumes: The Book of Psalms Here & Now: Multifaith Voices (Paraclete Press, 2023), and With the Best of Intentions: Interreligious Mistakes & Unexpected Learnings (Orbis 2023, with Lucinda Allen Mosher and Elinore J. Pierce).

The Dignity Project Fellowship is a fellowship program designed to train outstanding ​high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors—15-18 fellows total annually—from Greater Boston to serve as interreligious and cross-cultural leaders, with the capacity to engage the diversity of our city (and broader society) with thoughtfulness, skill, and care. To learn more about fellowship opportunities, visit the Miller Center’s website.

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