By Alice Aronov, Contributing Writer
To me, Sukkot has always been a holiday of migration and impermanence. The tactile, enveloping sukkah that my father built was temporary. It stood for some days, housed our joys and allowed us to freeze as we ate in the New York City autumn, and then it came down. It was an in-between place, not quite our home, and not quite the unknown.
For my family of Soviet Jewish immigrants, the sukkah became a symbol of transience associated with movement, of not yet having something of our own. For my mother, the hut reminded her of the stops she made in Berlin, in Vienna, and outside of Rome, as she found her way to America. Her wandering, across Europe, was her tangible connection to her ancestors. It tied her to Abraham in his hut and the Jews on their way to Israel. Yet, under the dried reeds of the sukkah roof, she did not talk about the hardships of immigration. Instead, her eyes lit up as she spoke of how other Jews, safe in real houses in America, informed her, with their help and sympathy, of Jewish values.
My mother was taken out of Soviet Uzbekistan through the “Save Soviet Jewry” movement in America and Israel. She was granted religious freedom through her extraction from Soviet atheism. Her survival, as a refugee, though, was dependent on Jews across the world understanding their privilege.
Jews in America and Israel had the freedom and means to live, eight days a year, in a temporary hut, so that they could understand the plights of their ancestors. Thankfully, they learned from that lesson. They used their money and influence to help other Jews who did not have the choice of living exposed to the elements. What was an option for eight days a year for some Jews, was others’ relentless realities.
Jews of privilege took arms using what they learned of chesed and tikkun olam. They lobbied governments, established Hebrew schools across the path of migration, and ensured that these Jewish refugees were in humane conditions, from Tashkent to Queens.
When I was building my sukkah this year, it was on my patio, within earshot of the television. For the few hours that my brother laboriously put up the roof, the news anchors spoke about something, I honestly couldn’t tell you what. In the middle of this something, they had a segment about inhumane conditions at the US-Mexico border. I began to wonder about the Syrian refugees who were never taken out of refugee camps. Both groups of people, and so many more fleeing from violence and poverty, lived in structures not dissimilar from the hut I was building. Theirs would not be filled with joy. They could not run inside when the hut got cold, just like my mother experienced.
When I told this to my father, he reminded me of something I think is essential. No matter your politics, people in migration are moving so that their lives will be better than how they are. On this holiday of Sukkot, we live in huts not only to remember that our ancestors lived in them as well, but to make sure that the world is not as broken in the present day as it was in the past, and to remember that we cannot force people to live in huts in their story of migration.