On the first night of Sukkot, ‘rain feels very 2020’ — and your weekend reads
This is an adaptation of The Forward’s weekly Shabbat newsletter. To get the Forward’s free email newsletters in your inbox, click here. And click here for a PDF of the following stories that you can download and print to savor over the weekend.
It was another surreal morning. Breakfast was tie-dye waffles with a side of radio news about the president’s coronavirus. Afterward, the kids went (upstairs) to school and the husband and I headed out back to position the tables in our soggy sukkah for max social distance. “I will just say,” he noted as we returned inside to more medical and political analysis on NPR, “rain on the first night of Sukkot feels very 2020.”
Indeed. Once again, it feels like we are living in a movie script that Hollywood would have rejected for being too out there, too apocalyptic, too much to take seriously. As Stu Loeser, the former spokesman for Mike Bloomberg (and a current member of the Forward Association), Tweeted on Friday morning: “Admit it: It’s October and you are surprised.”
And yet. It is also Sukkot, perhaps just the holiday we need right now, as a Forward headline this week put it. Yes, that’s because it’s a holiday celebrated in the relatively safer outdoors —especially if your sukkah, like ours, is made up of sheets and poles, with plenty of air circulation. But as one surreal news cycle bleeds into the next, there’s a deeper level of resonance.
After all, this holiday commemorates our ancestors’ 40 years of wandering in the desert, living in flimsy, impermanent dwellings, uncertain of their future, yet united in their peoplehood, and determined to get to the other side.
Few of us have ever felt less certain of the future, whether that be about health, politics, job security or, in our family’s case, what kind of Bnei Mitzvah we will be able to have on Nov. 21. We have never felt as vulnerable — to antisemitism and racism, to the vagaries of a virus and the convulsions of the stock market, to the weaknesses of local election boards and to the whims of our neighbors.
We feel unprotected from the elements, unclear about our prospects for survival let alone prosperity, unsatisfied with our leadership and infrastructure, unable to see the path forward — perhaps not unlike our ancestors huddled in their flimsy huts in the harsh desert.
And yet. Who would have thought we’d actually be doing O.K. with online school six months later? Who would have predicted that we’d make it through Yom Kippur with most synagogues shuttered, that Zoom-Seder and Zoom-Shiva could be in some ways preferable to the in-person variety? Who could have imagined all the crazy scenes in this movie too crazy to greenlight — and the resilience and adaptiveness we have seen across our communities?
Who indeed could imagine a people actually finding the promised land after 40 years of wandering in flimsy huts?
So, yes, we put up the sukkah, and people are coming over to eat with us in it. This is not the elaborate — and very much unflimsy — sukkah I grew up with — which I wrote about for Moment Magazine in 2017 — and we will not be serving two kinds of soup each night. But when I go out this afternoon to hang the decorations from the bamboo roof, I know I’ll feel the firmness of the ground under my feet.
Your weekend reads
Click here for a PDF of the following stories that you can download and print to savor over the weekend.
Events past and future
The other Forward highlight of the week was the roundtable we held with three rock-star rabbis — Buchdahl, David Ingber and David Wolpe — as well as Dr. Laura Shaw Frank and Abigail Pogrebin, on the topic of God. Please check out the video below if you need a break from the news, or divine inspiration, or just like really smart conversation.
And please don’t forget to sign up for our first virtual gala on Oct. 19th at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT, hosted by Jessica Kirson. And watch this space for the silent auction, which has many unique offerings — including admission to “Jayzercise,” the Forward’s internal staff morning Zoom workout! It will be a great night of laughs, and you don’t have to pay to attend — though every dollar donated supports the independent Jewish journalism you care about.
What do we use the money for? To pay our staff. And we have a couple of really compelling opportunities right now. Yes, we are hiring: a News Director to help run our daily operations, and a Social Media Editor to maximize engagement off-platform. Please share the listings with any newshounds and Instagram savants you happen to know.
Jodi Rudoren is Editor-in-Chief of The Forward. Sign up here to get her weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.