From Wednesday evening, Jewish communities will be moving outside into specifically constructed huts to eat, relax and some even sleep for the festival of Sukkot. The week-long festival is one of “shalosh regalim”, the three traditional pilgrimage festivals described in the Tanakh in which people would make their way to gather at the Jerusalem Temple. There are numerous rituals uniquely associated with the festival: waving the Four Species, a myrtle branch, a willow branch, a palm branch and an Etrog/citron held together and the recitiation of hoshanot, special prayers for blessing and salvation; as well as the construction of a “booth” – Sukkah (from which the festival gets its name) which traditionally one is supposed to basically live in for the duration of the festival though English weather generally means people only really eat in their sukkot in the UK.
Sukkot also falls around the same time each year as Freedom Sunday (this year just after Sukkot), a Day of Worship and Action among Churches in which Christian communities take a particular focus on thinking about and spiritually reflecting on human trafficking and what they can do to tackle this issue – the fastest growing international crime. CCJ has shared this initiative with Jewish communities, inviting Jews and Christians to come together in responding to human trafficking and modern slavery and demonstrating how our different traditions separately prompt us to respond to these issues and that this can be a point at which we can work together to develop a stronger, more just society. Our resource is intended to be used by Christian and Jewish communities together and was used by a number of CCJ branches on and around Freedom Sunday last year and remains relevant for this year, as well as much of the information in CCJ’s Freedom Seder Haggadah Companion, connecting this issue to Passover.
Sukkot and Freedom Sunday may not seem like a natural fit and indeed, they are two distinct traditions from different faiths and should remain separate. Yet that being said, I think there is a great deal of scope to see Sukkot as our own springboard to consider those who are less fortunate and particularly victims of trafficking. The story on which Sukkot (and if you want to press it further the entire Jewish faith) is based is a story of migration. We build sukkot in memory of the sukkot that were built by the Israelites in the Desert on the way to the Promised Land. They need to be temporary structures, taken down after the festival and put up again next year with a roof that is open to the elements through which you can see the sky, because the Israelites would take down their structures as the camp moved and put them back up when they next stopped. The move from a house into a sukkah is a move into something insecure and impermanent, that rattles in the wind and especially in the UK is frequently cold and wet.
People who are trafficked experience far worse conditions than that. They are frequently locked into situations they were not expecting or prepared for with few resources and no support. Their move into the unknown leaves them in a position that is insecure and often exploitative or criminal. They lose control over much of their lives, entirely at the disposition of a trafficker or handler. The experience of being trafficked is not comparable to living in a sukkah for a week in your back garden, but the movement into the transient, insecure, drizzly sukkah could inspire discussion of the security that we have and reflection on those who experience this insecurity and worse on a daily basis.
This Sukkot, we would encourage you to reflect on human trafficking and modern slavery while sitting in the sukkah. You may also want to think about inviting people to your Sukkah and maybe hosting similar discussions, on how we can use our different faiths to come together and put an end to human trafficking.
I hope you have a meaningful, comfortable and most of all happy Sukkot. Chag sameach.
– Programme Manager Elliot Steinberg