Posted Fri, 10/11/2019 - 14:22 by MCS

This Sunday evening marks the start of the seven-day Jewish festival Sukkot. The Hebrew word Sukkot translates as ‘tabernacles’ or ‘booths’ and commemorates the 40-year period during which the Jewish people were wandering in the desert, living nomadically in frail huts[1]. In remembrance of this period of displacement, and the way in which Gd provided protection during this vulnerable time, many observe this festival by constructing and dwelling in their own temporary shelters. Special prayers for continued refuge and salvation, referred to as Hoshanot, are also recited by some throughout the festival. The custom of waiving the Lulav (a combination of date palm, willow and myrtle branches, held together by a woven palm branch) and Etrog (a citrus lemon-like fruit) may also be carried out[2]: with the shape of each component representing a different part of human anatomy, this ritual symbolises how every aspect of one’s being can be utilised positively to serve Gd[3].

This notion of displacement and exile, embedded within the central theme of Sukkot, is far from obsolete.  Today evil social, political and economic landscapes continue to compromise the safety of individuals and minority groups, and as a result people are being forced to flee[4]. Embarking on their own journey away from the place they once called home: in the desperate pursuit of sanctuary. But instead of opening our doors to the traveller[5] by providing refuge and protection for the displaced at a time when they need it most, toxic narratives of blame, xenophobia and the demonized ‘other’ are being fabricated: and the foundations for a justified ethos of deflected responsibility and ostracization are being constructed. And as more and more people continue to be projected into a life of aimless wander[6], these neoliberal accusations and cultures of culpability are creating a strategic political smoke screen in concealing the true constructs manufacturing and perpetuating this crisis of displacement. The moral ills of conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations. We have chosen to dismiss our own duty of ethics, projecting guilt and accountability onto the exiled yet systematically overlooking the very social deficits which are forcing people out from their homes. Trapping the modern day displaced in a paradox between having their own personal safety jeopardised and escaping to a hostile environment which deems them irresponsible ‘outsiders’. Our solidarity has ceased, and our empathy has run dry.

We have forgotten what it means to be exiled. We have forgotten the brutal way in which it can fracture lives. We have forgotten how vulnerable and helpless displacement can suddenly make you. Now more than ever it is critical that we elevate the resonance of Sukkot into contemporary society: utilising our own Jewish history of being cast out to incentivise our duty to reach out and support the many who continue to face the struggles and trepidation of exile today[7]. At this time of year when many of us will be constructing our own physical structures of shelter I encourage us all to remember the displaced of today who remain frightened and without. As we reflect on our own history of seeking refuge, I hope we are motivated to simultaneously construct a theological structure of shelter – a tabernacle of peace – in which all those who continue to flee persecution or have their safety threatened today can find protection, sanctuary and comradeship.

Let us unite together to ensure the protection of all the minority groups and individuals on which conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations continue to prey and push into exile.


Esther Sills

Programme Manager

[1] Leviticus 23:43

[2] Leviticus 23:40

[3] VaYikra Rabbah 30:16

[4] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

[5] Job 31:32

[6] UNHCR report reveals that the world’s displaced population has grown to a record of 71 million people

[7] Leviticus 19:33-34