We are excited to announce that Rabbis for Human Rights’ Olive Harvest Project, protecting Palestinian communities in the West Bank will begin on October 15th! In partnership with 5 Palestinian communities we will be bring volunteers every day of the Harvest to join Palestinian farmers and their families in picking olives, and ensuring a peaceful harvest by repelling settler violence.
We have recently released our volunteer sign-up form and hundreds of people have already signed up to be volunteers at one or several of the harvest opportunities. If you are in the region of have friends and family who would like to join, we would be so pleased to welcome you to the Harvest!
You can find the sign up form here: מסיק הזיתים השנתי – הרשמה לימי פעילות | The annual olive harvest – activity day registration (google.com)
It is also not too late to support the Olive Harvest with a donation, our fundraising campaign has received donations from over 200 donors from Israel and around the World, click below to make a gift!
Interfaith Partnership for Peace
This week we were honored to spend time with groups of Christian partners of the organization. We spent a wonderful afternoon and evening with the board members of the Church of Sweden, highlights included a walking tour of Sukkot
preparations in the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim, and dinner with Rabbi Naama Kelman, the first woman in Israel to become a rabbi and the outgoing Dean of Hebrew Union College, who is an active member of Rabbis for Human Rights.
We also met with a group of German Theological Students at Dormition Abbey, in the Old City of Jerusalem. The conversation took a hard look at religious and ethical responsibilities towards the worsening state of human rights in the Occupied Territories, and we were proud to be joined by another important member of the organization, Rabbi Dalia Marks, a Professor of liturgy and expert on weaving Jewish texts with the values of human rights, equality and democracy. The event ended with an invitation for the group to join as volunteers at the Olive Harvest.
Sukkot as a Voluntary Exile
To the best of my knowledge, Rabbi Abraham Menachem Danziger, the late head of the Aleksander Hasidic dynasty and a leader in the Ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael, was not a member of our organization, and it is unlikely that he identified with all of our goals and activities. Nevertheless, his interpretation of the Festival of Sukkot may provoke thought and provide hope to those of us looking to raise a rabbinic voice in defense of human rights.
In his interpretation, known as Imrei Menachem, to the Portion Ha’azinu in the book of Deuteronomy, Rabbi Danziger mentions a tradition according to which Sukkot represents a kind of mending of a rupture caused by our people’s behavior, one which caused us to be banished into exile. He writes: “Dwelling in the Sukkah is a kind of exile, as we say upon entering the Sukkah: may it be that by virtue of my coming out to the Sukkah and running after your commandments, this will count as if I traveled a long distance.” The experience of dwelling in the Sukkah is likened to the experience of exile. In a prayer recited upon entering the Sukkah, the hope is expressed that this miniature exile will serve as a replacement for more dramatic and less desirable uprooting.
This year, it seems, galut (exile) has been more keenly present than ever before in Israel. Actions are perpetrated in the name of Torah and the Land of Israel which cause the uprooting of Palestinian villages, and which also exile us from our most fundamental values. There is a looming and imminent threat of the removal of judicial protection and the undermining of Israeli democracy. Perhaps this year, rather than seeing the move to the Sukkah as a symbolic exile, we should strive to turn this journey to a mini-exile to allow our imagination and our empathy to travel beyond our current situation.
Just as yearning for the Land of Israel is an important feature of Jewish consciousness, so too is awareness of diaspora. I read Rabbi Danziger’s suggestion as an opportunity to find a healthy place for diaspora consciousness in our lives, whether our address is in Binyamin, Barcelona, Brooklyn or Baku.
The Imrei Menachem continues and suggests a link between the word Sukkot and a Hebrew word for sight, sekhiyah. A teaching found in the Talmud (Megillah 14a) and repeated by Rashi (in his commentary on Genesis 11:29) suggests that the Biblical character Jessica (Iscah), mentioned in passing, was in fact Sarah, and her name was given because “she gazed upon (sakhtah) the Holy Spirit”, and also because “all would gaze upon her”. Rabbi Danziger suggests that the injury caused by falling short of our covenant responsibilities has the effect of darkening the eyes, “but the exile of the sukkah relieves the injury, causing enlightenment and allowing us to gaze upon the Holy Spirit.” Sukkot is seen here as the Festival of Seeing. Positioning ourselves afresh, adopting a new stance, allows a new perspective and brings enlightenment.
For those who hold dear the vision of a moderate, decent and progressive state, it is hard to peer through the fog engulfing Israeli society in recent months. Many cast their gaze to lands far away as an expression of concern and despair. The Hebrew Bible makes the extended presence of the People Israel in the Land of Israel conditional on the fulfillment of appropriate standards of conduct. It often seems that we have not met these standards. The Festival of Sukkot offers an opportunity to experience a kind of mini-exile, and perhaps in the process to experience something of the pain of expulsion and wandering. It provides an opportunity to look with new eyes and to see what is happening around us.
Look around and see, so this Hasidic interpretation suggests, through the Sukkah. Sometimes it is necessary to stand at a distance from our certainties and our truths, and to experience a voluntary exile. Perhaps in this way we can sharpen our vision and include perspectives which widen the horizon of possibilities. At a time when the darkness of limiting rights and closing channels of communication threatens to overwhelm us, the festival of stepping outside and seeing comes when we need it most. May it happen that this year among our guests in the Sukkah we will find a way to invite understanding and acceptance, wisdom and compassion.
Rabbi Michael Marmur teaches Jewish theology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. In the past he served as the chairperson of Rabbis for Human Rights, and today he is a member of the audit committee.