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The Walnet Street Station and the Clairidge Atrium: Sukkot, Hannukah and Radical Welcoming

11/20/2013 02:07:01 PM


You may have heard that this year a handful of Bnai Keshet members went to the Walnut Street train station during Sukkot: we gave out coffee and bagels, wished commuters Happy  Sukkot, invited them if interested to shake the lulav, passed out post cards with our Sukkot celebration times and had a great morning service in the park. Had we gone Chabad or just gone crazy? And why for Hanukkah are we about to do something similar with the other local synagogues?

At its very core Sukkot is a holiday about hospitality.  There is a longstanding tradition of inviting ushpizin, spiritual guests, into the Sukkah.  Each night is associated with the spirit of a different patriarch and now matriarch, whom we honor by imagining them celebrating with us.  It is also a holiday on which we are commanded to actively seek out the hungry, the needy, those who are alone or those who might simply desire company.

Sukkot commemorates a time when we ourselves were without permanent homes and were reliant on help for even our most basic sustenance.  To remember our own rootless wandering we leave our homes and dwell in vulnerable, impermanent structures.

This year, Bnai Keshet is looking for deeper ways to embrace the spirit of Welcoming the Stranger.  Going outside of the walls of our home and welcoming strangers who might not yet be ready to step in was one small spiritual step embodying this goal.

It was remarkable the openness of strangers to this message. It was surprising how it took a fair amount of courage to say to a stranger, “Hi I am Elliott. Happy Sukkot.” But it felt transformative to step forward and invite others to share in what we have come to love at Bnai Keshet.

Observing this holiday publicly and inviting strangers to join us in celebration did make us feel vulnerable.  But feeling vulnerable during Sukkot is part of the point. It is at the center of the holiday that is meant to remind us of what it means to be without a physical or spiritual home and to thus come to appreciate material and soulful places we do inhabit.

Hanukkah, which many scholars believe was first celebrated as a belated Sukkot, is also about vulnerability, but also faith and dedication. Hanukkah marks the darkest moment in the year, with the longest nights. It is during this holiday that we actively increase the light we bring into the world until we have passed the darkest night of the year.  We trust that our own dedication can bring enlightenment.

For Hanukkah we will be opening the Hanukkah Spot: A Miracle Pop-Up in the atrium of the Hinck building between Bloomfield Avenue and Church Street. We along with several other synagogues and MetroWest will be lighting the Hanukkiah, singing songs, and celebrating for most of the nights of Hanukkah. Our own Latkapalooza which has remarkably fried enough latkes for our entire shul will be audaciously trying to serve enough latkes for anyone in the community who might wish to join us.

Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates a miracle. Not that the oil lasted for eight days, but that the priests had the faith to light the oil that was only enough for one day, knowing it would take week to procure more oil.

When we celebrate our Judaism in public and invite, Jews and non-Jews, synagogue affiliates and those who are unaffiliated, friends and strangers we are also acting on faith. We are expressing faith that our light is worth sharing and that there is enough to go around. That sharing it will in fact make it brighter and that we will be enlightened by the strangers we come to know.

Hopefully, our excitement about these holidays will inspire folks who might be interested and who would have never heard of it.

Hopefully, many more people will hear of our effort and know that Bnai Keshet is a community that is stretching to find new ways to be welcoming.

Hopefully this will be one step, expressing our eagerness to welcome not only those who already know they want to join a synagogue, but those who may have never thought of it or who feel some barrier to investigating the possibility.

Hopefully, some of the people we invite or some who hear of this welcome will join us for a dinner or service or study in the future and a holiday that began with welcoming the stranger will end with us having expanded the circle of our community.

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780